Automobiles are the most common form of transport in our society. There are approximately 1.4 billion passenger cars in the world, with about one-quarter manufactured in the United States. Their popularity has been fueled by rising per capita income, economic development and increased safety legislation.
Today, automobiles are highly complex technical systems containing thousands of component parts. Using advanced technology, manufacturers continue to improve the body, chassis, engine, control system, emission-control system and safety features. The design of each vehicle depends on the intended use. For example, the weight distribution, type of engine and the size of the engine play an important role in the stability of the automobile. Vehicles for off-road use need to be robust and durable to withstand the most extreme operating conditions. They also need to be able to withstand severe overloads.
Motorcycles are usually self-propelled machines with two or three wheels. Although some people may use the term “automobile” to describe motorcycles, the definition is somewhat fuzzy. Some courts have ruled that motorcycles are not automobiles. Others disagree and define motorcycles as automobiles only if they have sidecars.
A definition of an automobile is a four-wheeled, self-propelled, motor-driven vehicle with seating for several passengers. The most common definitions state that automobiles have four wheels, are designed for passenger transportation, seat up to eight people, and run on roads. However, some definitions of an automobile will include motorcycles as well.
Many of the first motorcycles were velocipedes adapted with engines. The first commercially marketed motorized motorcycles were created in 1894 by Hildebrand and Wolfmuller. These machines were a breakthrough in automotive knowledge. Several inventors worked on creating more sophisticated motorcycles.
As the automobile became the primary family transportation in the United States, manufacturers were motivated to produce affordable models that would appeal to the middle class. After World War I, the auto industry experienced a huge boost as a result of new technological developments. Automakers introduced aircraft-inspired body styles and sleek iconography of streamlining.
In the mid-19th century, bicycle builder Sylvester Howard Roper created a similar contraption. During the mid-Victorian era, Ernest Michaux of France invented a motorcycle. By the late 19th century, automobiles began to dominate the transportation industry in Europe. Increasing competition between automobile manufacturers led to increased improvements in the drivetrain and chassis.
Toward the end of the 20th century, the automobile began to become more complex. Manufacturers were able to split the market into smaller segments and introduce new designs more frequently. Despite the complexity of the modern automobile, they remain a major part of our lives.
With over 70 million passenger cars sold in the world, the number of vehicles is increasing rapidly. According to the Automobile Association of America, the average American travels over three trillion miles each year. Whether traveling for work or pleasure, an automobile provides a safe, reliable transportation option. Thousands of engineers and scientists work to develop new models, and manufacturers continually improve their safety, emission-control and control systems.