Automobiles are wheeled motor vehicles that seat one to eight people and run on roads. They use an internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline (or other liquid petroleum products) to propel them. Most automobiles use a transmission system to convert the engine’s speed into mechanical motion to drive the wheels. The transmission system may be manual or automatic, depending on the type of automobile. Other types of cars are also available, such as minivans and SUVs, which are designed to carry large amounts of cargo. Some special cars are used for specific tasks, such as crane vehicles at construction sites and forklifts in warehouses.
The automobile made it possible for people to travel great distances, changing the way they lived their lives. People who previously worked in one place could visit their families and friends in another area, or travel to other parts of the country for work. For many Americans, the automobile was a symbol of freedom.
Several inventors contributed to the development of the automobile, including Karl Benz, who built the first gasoline-powered car in 1885. Then Henry Ford revolutionized production with the assembly line, lowering the cost of his Model T and making it affordable to middle-class families.
With its huge land area and a hinterland of scattered communities, the United States had an enormous need for automotive transportation. Cheap raw materials and a tradition of mechanization encouraged American manufacturers to produce automobiles at higher volumes than European producers. As a result, American companies became dominant in the industry by the 1920s. Today, the automobile is still one of the most widely used means of transportation in the world.