Automobiles are self-propelled vehicles that have four to eight wheels and use an internal combustion engine or electric motor for transportation. These vehicles are mostly used to transport passengers, though some are designed to carry cargo. The branches of engineering that deal with the manufacture and technology of automobiles are known as automotive engineering.
The modern automobile was first perfected in Germany and France by such engineers as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Nicolaus Otto in the late 1800s. But by the 1920s the industry was firmly established in America, where Henry Ford innovated mass production techniques that made cars affordable for middle-class families.
As the automobile transformed the American landscape, it also reshaped human civilization in ways that few inventions have. It ended rural isolation, bringing urban amenities–such as schools and hospitals–to rural areas, while reshaping suburban lifestyles. It prompted new social and recreational activities, such as shopping trips and vacations. And it spawned new businesses, such as gas stations and hotels.
Today, automobiles still play a major role in our society. They enable us to travel long distances quickly and independently, without having to depend on others or public transportation systems. They are an important part of modern life, and most people cannot imagine a world without them. They give us freedom to choose where and when to go, and they allow us to bring along our family members and pets. They also let us enjoy the comfort and convenience of air conditioning and other modern amenities.