Automobiles are wheeled vehicles used primarily to transport people rather than goods. They are generally powered by an internal combustion engine and have a capacity for carrying passengers in seats that are placed in rows. There are currently some 590 million automobiles in operation worldwide, with the vast majority of them passenger cars. Specialized automobiles such as crane vehicles, road rollers and fork-lifts are also found on the roads.
The automobile has transformed the world and is now a central pillar of modern life. It is not an exaggeration to say that many aspects of modern life would be inconceivable without the car. It has changed the way that cities and towns are designed, shifted the location of residential areas and, because of its high efficiency and relatively low operating costs, is the dominant mode of long-distance transportation in most developed countries.
Automobiles first appeared in the late 19th century, combining the principles of locomotive technology with the convenience of personal mobility. The invention of the gasoline internal combustion engine brought this development into practical applications. It surpassed the speed and convenience of the horse-drawn carriage, was cheaper than riding in a train or taking ships or trains, and allowed the use of roads that were previously impassable. It also brought the automobile within the reach of middle-class families by utilizing new manufacturing methods and techniques pioneered by Henry Ford, who made his Model T affordable for nearly all Americans.
As the automobile became a vital part of everyday life, it helped women become more active in society. Women could now drive themselves to work and to go shopping for household items, something that was not possible before the automobile. Women also took advantage of the freedom that the car afforded them and began to demonstrate for political rights such as the right to vote.
In addition to their basic transport role, automobiles can serve a variety of other purposes such as emergency vehicles. These can include police cars, fire engines and ambulances. Similarly, some businesses use automobiles for the transport of goods such as trucks and vans.
The automotive industry is a very important economic sector and contributes to global economic well-being. It is a very important source of employment and generates substantial taxes for governments. The industry is a major exporter and provides a significant share of global gross domestic product (GDP). In the United States alone, it accounts for one-third of all manufactured exports and more than half of total international trade.
The development of the automobile has influenced other industries, including agriculture and mining. It has also given rise to a number of lifestyles, such as suburban living, a shift in social relations and changes in work patterns. It has even contributed to some economic problems such as traffic congestion and air pollution. Efforts to resolve some of these problems are expected to change the shape of the automobile industry. For example, efforts to reduce traffic congestion will likely result in the introduction of new types of cars such as electric or hybrid vehicles and may lead to a reduction in the number of automobiles on the road.