Automobiles are self-propelled vehicles for traveling over land. Most are designed to transport two or more passengers and a small amount of cargo. They differ from trucks, which are generally constructed to carry heavier loads and are often designed for hauling cargo; buses, which are usually larger public conveyances that can carry a large number of passengers and sometimes cargo; and motorcycles, which are small and designed primarily for personal use. The automobile revolutionized American everyday life in the twentieth century. It brought with it new jobs, industries, and services. It also caused problems. Exhaust from gas-burning cars contributed to air pollution, and the demand for automobiles created stress on dwindling world oil supplies.
The origins of the modern automobile date back several hundred years. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built the first steam-powered car in France in 1769, and manufacturers produced cars powered by both steam and electricity through the late 1800s and early 1900s. Steam cars were heavy and moved slowly, and steam-powered engines required time to heat up. Electric cars used batteries that needed to be recharged, and they were expensive to operate.
Henry Ford changed everything by inventing the assembly line and dramatically reducing production costs. His invention was a success, and sales of automobiles exploded in the United States and around the world. Automobiles are now the most common form of transportation in the world. They are manufactured in many countries and powered by various fuels. The most commonly used fuel is gasoline, but other types of fuel include diesel, natural gas, and liquefied petroleum gases. Some are also powered by electricity, solar energy, and wind turbines.
The development of the automobile has had a major impact on society and on the economy. In the United States, it spawned many new jobs in factories that manufactured parts for automobiles and in construction companies that built roads. It also gave people more freedom to travel and visit, which resulted in the growth of leisure activities, hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and other entertainment centers.
In addition, the automobile helped to increase agricultural and manufacturing output in the United States. Farmers could drive their crops and livestock to market more quickly than before, which made them more productive. And the automobile helped open up new frontiers in the western United States, where farms could be more easily reached by settlers.
The downside of the automobile is that it uses a lot of fossil fuel, which contributes to climate change by contributing to greenhouse gases. If drivers limit their vehicle emissions, this can help reduce the damage to the environment. For this reason, some people are choosing to switch from driving automobiles to alternative forms of transportation such as walking and riding bicycles. Others are experimenting with automobiles that run on a combination of electricity and fuel cells. This type of hybrid is expected to be more efficient than traditional gasoline-powered cars. The battery-powered hybrids can be driven for a short distance on electricity alone, and they can then turn to the internal combustion engine when cruising.