The automobile is a four-wheeled vehicle designed for passenger transportation and powered by an internal-combustion engine that burns a volatile fuel. Its history is intertwined with the development of modern society and the economy. The modern automobile is a highly complex technical system that incorporates many subsystems with specific design functions. These include the body, chassis, engine, drive train, control systems, safety and emissions-control systems. Research and development engineers have used new materials like high-strength plastics, advanced alloys of steel and nonferrous metals, and electronic computers to improve the efficiency, safety, and reliability of automobiles.
The automobile greatly impacted American society in the early 1900s when it became more affordable for middle class people to own their own car. The ability to drive frees people from the confines of a bus or taxi and gives them more freedom to travel where they want when they want. People can visit family in the countryside or go on vacations in other cities without the need to wait for a bus.
Automakers began to use assembly lines in their factories to produce more cars quickly. These innovations sparked competition between Ford, General Motors and Chrysler and led to the rise of the Big Three American automakers. The end of World War II and the need to funnel manufacturing resources toward production for the war effort slowed the pace of automotive innovation.
In the 1960s, concerns about unfunctional styling and fuel consumption arose as Americans began to tire of their “gas guzzling” automobiles. As the United States drained its own oil supplies, the need for automakers to produce automobiles that burned less gas became critical. This led to the birth of compact, fuel-efficient European and Japanese cars.