Automobiles – A Catalyst for Change


Automobiles are powered by an engine and can be pushed, pulled, rolled or carried from one place to another. They are usually equipped with seating for one to six people and can be fueled by gasoline or other types of fuels.

The automobile has served as a powerful catalyst for change in twentieth century America, enabling the rapid development of a new consumer goods-oriented society and providing a large share of manufacturing employment. It has also played a significant role in the development of related ancillary industries, such as steel and petroleum. Moreover, it has contributed to the formation of cities, which have replaced traditional towns and rural areas as the primary economic centers of most developed countries.

By allowing people to live in suburban communities, where they can travel to work and shopping by car, the automobile has served to fulfill a long-standing American predilection for individual freedom of movement and action. It has also helped to drive the growth of suburban home ownership and the creation of modern neighborhoods with streets, parks and other community amenities.

It is estimated that in the United States alone there are over 57 million automobiles, making it one of the largest vehicle markets in the world. It is also important to note that these vehicles represent a considerable percentage of the total value of products manufactured in the country. Consequently, the automotive industry is an important factor in the economy of many developed countries and plays a crucial role in developing countries as well.

Initially, automobiles were designed to replace the more cumbersome horse-drawn carriages. In 1886, Karl Benz designed the first motor car, which was called the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. This automobile used a four-stroke internal combustion engine that burned gasoline. Although the design was crude, it was a major step toward the production of commercial automobiles that could be sold to the general public.

In 1908, Ford introduced the Model T, a mass-produced car that made automobiles affordable to middle-class Americans. This innovation, along with the development of a standardized assembly line for production, enabled the rapid growth of the automotive industry in the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, automobiles became the backbone of a new consumer-oriented society and provided jobs in numerous ancillary industries, including steel, aluminum and petroleum.

Postwar, however, a number of issues surfaced concerning the nonfunctional styling of American cars and their questionable safety record. In addition, concerns arose about the negative environmental impact of gas-guzzling automobiles and the draining of world oil reserves. These factors opened the market to foreign auto manufacturers, particularly those in Germany and Japan.

Today, the auto industry is dominated by a handful of companies that produce a wide range of vehicles with varying features and price points. For example, BMW offers a variety of customizable controls on its vehicles, while Toyota’s Camry sedan has become the best-selling car in the world with over five million units produced every year.