Automobiles are a vital part of our daily lives. We cannot imagine life without them. They are used for personal transportation as well as cargo transportation. The branches of engineering that deal with the manufacture & technologies of automobiles are called automotive engineering. Today there are over 1.4 billion motor vehicles in operation around the world. Over three trillion miles (five trillion kilometres) are traveled each year by them. This vast amount of travel is done mostly by passenger cars.
The building blocks of the modern automobile have been in existence for several hundred years. The earliest examples were steam, electric and gasoline powered vehicles. The earliest steam-powered cars could only travel short distances and required frequent stops to recharge the engine. Gasoline-powered engines were more successful but still relied on the messy combustion of a liquid fuel to provide power. A combination of technical advances allowed the gasoline powered car to become a practical reality in the late 1800s.
In the United States, the automobile revolution was led by Henry Ford. He innovated mass production techniques at his Highland Park, Michigan factory and produced the Model T in a quantity that was affordable to middle-class families.
By the end of the 1920s, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler had dominated the American auto industry. The three companies controlled fifty percent of the nation’s market. In addition, the automobile had become an indispensable tool of the industrialization of rural areas and of American economic growth.
During the postwar era, however, the technological advantages of the automobile began to erode. Nonfunctional styling had become fashionable, and quality deteriorated. Concerns over air pollution and the draining of the world’s oil reserves also raised questions about the environmental cost of automobiles.
In recent decades, Americans have become auto-dependent. Most households own one or more vehicles, and the majority of household trips are made by car. This dependence has not stopped new forces from acting as progressive catalysts for change. But the Age of the Automobile is fading, giving way to other technologically driven changes. The next generation of cars will probably be hybrid, electrical or even autonomous. As we transition to a new Age, it will be interesting to see how the automotive industry responds to these challenges. Will the American automakers be able to meet the demand for these more environmentally sound and safer vehicles? We shall soon find out.