Automobiles are vehicles that carry passengers for transportation over long distances, usually on roads. They are a type of land vehicle that is much smaller than trucks/lorries and buses. The word automobile comes from the Latin “auto” (self) and the Greek “mobilis” (moving). Most cars have four wheels, an engine or motor, and a transmission system to make them move. They burn a fuel, most often gasoline, to power the engine, which then moves the wheels to propel the car forward. Automobiles are used by people for work and leisure activities, and they are the main mode of transportation for many people in the developed world.

A vehicle powered by a steam engine was the first true automobile, built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in France in 1769. However, this machine was heavy and only moved very slowly. Steam-powered vehicles went out of fashion in the late 1800s. In the early 1900s Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler invented the internal combustion engine, which made petrol-driven cars possible. The petrol-driven car was lighter and could travel faster than the earlier steam machines. The Benz and Daimler automobiles were expensive, but Henry Ford brought them down in price to the point where most families could afford them.

The automobile industry quickly grew to be one of the largest industries in the United States during the 1920s, and it was an important factor in the development of a new consumer-oriented society. As automobile production grew, so did the use of other industrial products, including steel and petroleum. The auto industry has been a major contributor to the technological growth of the twentieth century, and it has become a global enterprise today.

Car manufacturers are constantly searching for ways to improve their designs, increase speed, and improve safety features. They are also researching alternative fuels to reduce emissions and to limit the drain on dwindling oil supplies. Automobiles are a vital part of the modern economy, and the automotive industry is responsible for a large portion of the global GDP.

The development of the automobile has been rapid, due in large part to the hundreds of small manufacturers competing for market share. The competition has resulted in numerous technical advances, such as electric ignition and self-starting (both invented by Charles Kettering for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910-1911), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes. Since the 1920s, most cars have been mass-produced, and marketing plans often heavily influence the design of the vehicles produced. For example, Alfred P. Sloan of General Motors established the practice of offering different makes of automobiles in order to allow consumers to “move up” as their financial circumstances improved. This same approach was later taken up by Japanese companies such as Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Suzuki. These firms began as manufacturing non-automobile products before switching to car production during the 1950s.