An automobile is a self-propelled vehicle used for travel on land. Its primary design function is passenger transport, although some are also designed to carry small amounts of cargo. An automobile uses an internal combustion engine fueled most commonly by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. The automobile is an integral part of the modern world’s transportation system and a major industry. Its development was spurred by the increasing availability of cheap fuel and by innovations in manufacturing, such as Henry Ford’s assembly-line techniques, which significantly reduced the cost of automobile production. Today’s automobile is a complex technical system with thousands of subsystems, each designed to perform a specific task.
The first automobiles were powered by steam, but their designers knew they needed a more practical and efficient power source. They eventually opted for a petrol (gasoline) or diesel (diesel) internal combustion engine. Various inventors and engineers contributed to the advancement of the automobile throughout the nineteenth century, including such notables as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, Nicolaus Otto, and Emile Levassor. The 1901 Mercedes, designed by Wilhelm Maybach for Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, is widely regarded as the first modern motorcar.
Most modern automobiles are driven by an internal combustion engine that runs on a volatile fuel such as gasoline, diesel or kerosene. When the engine is running, its internal components release chemical energy that turns the wheels of the car to move it forward. This energy is measured in horsepower, or kilowatts per hour. A device called a transmission system converts the mechanical energy of the engine into electrical energy to run the vehicle’s lights, radio and other accessories.
Automobiles are a major cause of air pollution, especially when they are used in large numbers in urban areas. They can also be a nuisance when they are in the way of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcycles. In cities and other busy areas, many people choose to use public transportation like buses, trains or subways to get around instead of driving an automobile.
Some automobiles have electric motors that can be used when the vehicle is cruising along and recharging the battery, and they are sometimes designed to operate in hybrid mode. Other vehicles, such as trucks and omnibuses, are designed for heavier loads and more cargo capacity than passenger cars.
There is ongoing research into the design and manufacture of automobiles that do not require a human driver. However, the development of a practical auto-pilot or fully automated automobile has proven challenging and is still in its early stages. Some current automotive safety features include a computerized system that senses unsafe conditions and takes action to prevent accidents and injuries to passengers. These systems are becoming increasingly advanced as new microprocessors and software are employed. They can now detect dangerous driving patterns and respond by accelerating, steering or even stopping the automobile. This type of safety feature is expected to be available in some new cars by 2025. However, the vast majority of vehicles will continue to be driven by human beings.