The Impact of Automobiles on Society

Automobiles are powered by gasoline and use an internal combustion engine to generate rotary motion that turns the wheels of the vehicle. The modern automobile is usually designed to carry a driver and passengers or a limited amount of cargo. The automobile has had a profound effect on the world, both in terms of its impact on social and economic development, as well as its effects on the environment.

The first automobiles were perfected in Germany and France during the late 1800s. Karl Benz’s four-stroke cycle gasoline engine automobile, introduced in 1885, is generally acknowledged to be the first true modern motorcar. Its simplicity and durability, as well as its fuel efficiency, were unprecedented. Its design was the basis for the automobile as we know it today.

By the early 1920s, Henry Ford innovated mass production techniques that enabled large American automakers to dominate the industry. As demand for automotive transportation expanded in the United States, the automobile became a consumer commodity available to a much larger population than was possible with horse-drawn carriages. Automobile production also increased in Europe and Japan to meet this demand.

With its vast land area and a hinterland of scattered and isolated settlements, the United States needed an automobile transportation system more than any other nation. This created enormous demand and a seller’s market for cars. The absence of tariff barriers encouraged sales over a broad geographic region. Cheap raw materials and a chronic shortage of skilled labor encouraged mechanization of production.

Automobile manufacturers innovated to compete with each other, adding features such as air conditioning and power steering. The car’s safety features were improved as well, including the addition of seat belts and the development of safer brakes. However, engineering was subordinated to questionable aesthetics of nonfunctional styling at the expense of economy and safety. The era of the annually restyled “road cruiser” ended in the 1960s, with the imposition of standards for automotive safety and emission of pollutants; the rise of fuel prices; and the penetration of the U.S. market first by the German Volkswagen “bug” and then by Japanese small, functionally-designed, well-built, fuel-efficient cars.

As the automobile became a vital part of society, industries and jobs developed to supply its needs. For example, rubber and steel factories were established to produce components for the vehicles. Industries were also developed to harvest and transport petroleum and gasoline, which were used as the primary sources of energy for automobiles. Roads were built and improved as well. The automobile made it possible for people to live in one place and work in another, opening the door to new possibilities in career choices and expanding family relationships.

Special automobiles were also developed for specific purposes such as fire engines, police cars and ambulances. Automobiles continue to be an important part of life in the United States. Most suburban and rural communities are not within walking distance of commercial establishments, so owning a car is almost essential for these families. It is not uncommon for an individual to own several vehicles for various purposes such as a passenger vehicle, a sport utility vehicle (SUV) and a truck.