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The Evolution of Automobiles

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The automobile is a complex technical system of subsystems that perform specific design functions. Its development has been driven by technological innovations such as electronic computers, high-strength metal alloys and high-strength plastics, as well as by social factors such as environmental concerns, safety regulations and competitiveness between manufacturers throughout the world. The modern automobile is no longer a mechanical contrivance, but an integrated transport and communication device that provides comfort, safety, convenience and personal freedom.

It is hard to say who invented the automobile. But the scientific and technological building blocks of this amazing machine can be traced back several hundred years to the time when Leonardo da Vinci was creating his designs and models.

Various definitions of automobile have been formulated over the years, but most agree that they are wheeled motor vehicles that can seat one to eight people and are powered by an internal combustion engine that uses a volatile fuel for propulsion. Some are designed primarily for transportation, while others, like the race car, are built for speed and performance.

Automobiles are an important part of the world’s economy. They carry people and goods across town, the country and around the world. They also support a wide variety of industries, including construction, agriculture, food processing, manufacturing and retailing. They are also an important source of income for the government and other businesses.

The first modern cars were developed in Europe and Germany toward the end of the nineteenth century by men such as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Nicolaus Otto. These early cars were steam, electric and gasoline powered. But the gas-powered automobile proved to be the most popular and practical.

By the 1920s, many different types of cars were being produced. But it was Henry Ford who made the automobile affordable to most Americans. His Model T cost less than half of the average annual salary in 1912 and was a reliable workhorse. Ford also introduced large-scale production and the assembly line.

After World War II, engineering became subordinated to questionable aesthetics and nonfunctional styling that ignored practicality and economy. The result was that by the mid-1960s American-made cars were being delivered to retail buyers with an average of twenty-four defects per unit, including serious safety problems. The era of the annually restyled road cruiser ended with government regulations on automotive safety and emission of pollutants; escalating gasoline prices; and the penetration of Japanese fuel-efficient, functionally designed and well-built small cars.

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