The automobile is one of the most important forms of transport in modern society. Its importance stems from its role in economic development and tourism. Automotive manufacturers are also key players in environmental and safety legislation. They develop and improve components such as chassis, engines, transmissions, air conditioning, fuel systems, emission controls, and steering systems. In addition, they employ thousands of component parts.
Since the late 1800s, automobiles have evolved from simple, hand-made models to highly sophisticated technical systems. Today, approximately 1.4 billion passenger cars are manufactured worldwide, and they are the most widely used form of transportation in the world.
Before the automobile was invented, people relied on bicycles and other modes of transport for their personal travel. The emergence of industrialized countries encouraged the mechanization of manufacturing processes, including the production of automobiles. As a result, the United States surpassed Europe in the production of motor vehicles in the early twentieth century.
A growing demand for automobiles in the United States was spurred by higher per capita income and economic development. Also, the automobile helped stimulate tourism, particularly in the rural areas of the country.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the first American-made gasoline car was produced by J. Frank and Charles Duryea. During the early 1900s, several other American firms produced automobiles. The Model T was the first of a series of automobiles designed by Ford and other companies. This automobile became the most popular model in the United States, selling 15 million units by 1927.
After World War II, the automobile industry grew rapidly in Europe and Japan. During the war, automobiles played a vital role in the development of the military. Manufacturers provided 75 essential items for the war, totaling a staggering $29 billion. However, automobiles’ quality declined and their aesthetics were questionable.
Among other factors, the automobile’s mass production techniques made it more expensive and complicated to produce. This created a greater need for skilled labor. Moreover, the demand for cars was greater in the United States than in Europe. Thus, the industry was able to quickly monopolize the market.
By the mid-1920s, the number of active automobile manufacturers had dwindled from 253 to 44. The three “Big Three” automakers, Chevrolet, Ford and General Motors, dominated the market. Those manufacturers produced over 80 percent of the country’s automotive output in 1928.
After World War II, the industry began to produce models with hydraulic brakes and high-compression engines. These innovations improved the handling of the automobile and offered better safety. Some of the postwar models featured syncromesh transmissions. But by the mid-1960s, the quality of the automobiles had deteriorated to 24 defects per unit.
Throughout the twentieth century, the automobile industry helped change America. The increasing popularity of the automobile encouraged the growth of tourism, better medical care for rural areas, and improvements in schools. Moreover, the industry was the largest consumer of many industrial products, including petroleum.
Today, there are 70 million new passenger cars manufactured each year, with half of them manufactured by foreign companies. Passenger cars are used for personal and family transportation.