An automobile, also known as a car, is a wheeled motor vehicle designed to transport passengers and carry cargo on roads. It is powered by an internal combustion engine, a battery-powered electric motor or a combination of both. Its design is based on many factors, including the intended use and the speed for which it will operate. Automobiles are generally distinguished from trucks, vans and buses by their size, power source, passenger accommodations and body design.

The automobile has been one of the major forces shaping modern life. It has stimulated participation in outdoor recreation, encouraged tourism and spawned tourism-related industries such as service stations and roadside restaurants. It has brought urban amenities-most importantly, better medical care and schools-to rural areas. It has shifted work patterns and enlarged the opportunities for self-employment. It has revolutionized personal mobility, making it possible for workers to live away from their jobs and for families to move to new areas without changing employment. It has radically transformed the design and function of urban communities and is responsible for the massive investment in streets, highways and city buildings. The automobile is a vital part of the economy and provides one of the largest sources of employment in America.

It is also a large consumer of raw materials, requiring petroleum for fuel, steel to make the frame and other components, and glass to make the windows. Economic, ecological and geopolitical factors have significant impact on the availability of these resources and thus on the price of the automobile.

Automobiles are manufactured by a wide variety of companies in both the United States and abroad. The production method pioneered by Henry Ford revolutionized industrial manufacturing, allowing for the mass production of vehicles that were previously the preserve of wealthy individual owners. This technique allowed small producers to enter the business with a relatively low initial outlay and a very quick return on investment. It also facilitated the sale of the automobile for cash from manufacturer to dealer, which has been an important feature of the industry ever since.

Automakers have also been forced to adapt as their markets grew increasingly saturated. The onset of World War II shifted manufacturers’ efforts to the military effort, and automobile production slowed. After the war questions emerged about the nonfunctional styling of American cars, the quality and safety of the industry’s products, and their environmental impact, especially the draining of world oil reserves.

Modern automotive design combines a number of design functions, including cost-efficient manufacture and a high level of comfort for passengers. It also has to be aesthetically appealing and capable of meeting the requirements of specific traffic conditions. For example, a vehicle intended for off-road driving needs to have robust systems that resist severe overload and extreme operating conditions, while an automobile meant for use on limited-access, high-speed highways requires sophisticated engine performance, optimized high-speed handling and stability. An aesthetically pleasing shape and color are also important considerations for automobile manufacturers.