Automobiles are a vital part of our modern lives, allowing us to travel far and wide. Their impact on society can be felt in areas such as commerce, communications and entertainment. They are also a source of pollution and greenhouse gases. With so many benefits and drawbacks, it’s important to understand what goes into the creation of an automobile and how it impacts our environment.
An automobile, or motor car, is a self-propelled vehicle for passenger transportation on land that has four to eight tires and an internal combustion engine powered by fuel, most often gasoline (petrol). The branch of engineering that deals with these vehicles is known as automotive engineering.
Modern automobiles are complex machines with thousands of individual parts that must interact and support each other. The major systems include the powertrain, chassis, suspension, steering, braking, electrical and air conditioning. An analogous set of circulatory systems provides cooling, lubrication and fuel to the engine and other components.
The history of the automobile began in Germany and France in the late 1800s with the work of such engineers as Gottlieb Daimler, Siegfried Marcus, Karl Benz and Nicolaus Otto. These early inventors’ vehicles were crude by today’s standards, but they were a step forward.
American businessman and engineer Henry Ford revolutionized automobile production in the 1920s, using assembly lines to make cars affordable to middle-class families. This change allowed automobiles to take over the streets and byways of Europe and America. But the era of the gas-guzzling road cruiser was short-lived as a result of rising concerns over safety, pollution and energy consumption; stringent new laws on emissions and fuel economy; and growing demand for electric vehicles, which run on alternative power sources such as battery power or hydrogen.
The epoch of the annually restyled, mass-produced automobile ended with the imposition of stricter federal regulations on automotive safety and fuel economy, environmental pollution and safety, and fuel efficiency; escalating gasoline prices and a drain on dwindling world oil reserves. Consumers were also demanding safety features, such as seatbelts, airbags and electronic stability control. Automakers responded by reducing weight and size, introducing fuel-efficient engines and transmissions, and investing in research for emerging technologies such as hybrid vehicles and autonomous driving.
Today, the automobile is a staple of our everyday life, but only by the grace of its engineers and technicians do we have such an efficient, safe and comfortable machine available for our use. The future of the automobile looks even more promising, with innovations in battery-powered and electric vehicles on the horizon. These and other innovations will continue to transform our lives.