Automobiles are a significant part of the world economy. Their presence in our lives has changed the way we live, work, and play. They have enabled entire societies to be restructured around the power of rapid long-distance movement conferred by the automobile and around the flexible distribution of goods made possible by trucking.
The building blocks of automobiles go back several hundred years, but it was not until the early 1900s that the industry really took off. In the United States, Henry Ford innovated mass production techniques that sped up the development of vehicles. In addition, the country’s vast land area and wide availability of cheap raw materials encouraged demand for automotive transportation.
From a technical standpoint, automobiles are complex, with an immense variety of systems, including engines, transmissions, and control systems. The automobile’s body, analogous to the skeleton of the human body, provides support for these systems and protects passengers from the elements. The arrangement, type, and choice of these various systems depends to a large extent on the vehicle’s intended use. For example, a car built for off-road use must have durable systems that can stand up to rough operating conditions, while a sports model designed for high speed performance needs improved steering and handling capabilities as well as increased engine performance.
While the automobile has brought many social benefits, it also has posed serious challenges to society. In the late twentieth century, Americans have come to depend on their automobiles to the point where the Automobile Age is melding into a new age of Electronics.