Automobiles are powered by engines to enable people to travel long distances quickly and carry cargo. They are much faster than walking or riding a bicycle and can haul greater loads, but they also consume more fuel than other forms of transport. They are used for personal transport and business travel, and they are a vital component of many economies.
Automobile manufacturing involves a wide range of technologies. Inventors have experimented with steam, electricity, and internal combustion engines in vehicles, and new systems have been developed to make them more efficient and safer to operate. Modern automobiles are complex systems that combine mechanical, electrical, and computer controls to perform multiple tasks, such as acceleration, steering, braking, and transmission control.
The first automobiles were horse-drawn carriages that had engines installed. They were often slow and difficult to handle. During the late 1800s, inventors began developing better cars with gasoline or other fuels, and the first electric automobiles were built by Charles Kettering for General Motors in 1910. The large-scale production of affordable automobiles using the assembly line was introduced by Ransom Eli Olds in 1902.
Car safety has been a major concern for drivers and manufacturers since early times, with crashes occurring in high numbers with serious or fatal consequences. Driver error, road conditions, and vehicle design are often the cause of these incidents. Early safety research focused on making brakes more reliable and reducing the flammability of fuel systems. For example, modern engine compartments are designed to vent vapors into the open air rather than into the passenger cabin. The newest cars use hydraulic, dual-circuit brakes that are less likely to fail due to sudden cable breaks. They also use regenerative braking to convert some of the energy of moving the car into electricity, which can help recharge the battery when the vehicle is parked.
A car’s performance and handling are highly dependent on its design and construction, as well as the driving style of its owner. Different types of automobiles are suited to different purposes, and buyers have a broad array of choices to meet their individual needs. Some of the most popular automobiles are sport-utility vehicles that blend SUV-like cargo space and capability with sedan-like handling and fuel economy. Others are pure sportscars with blistering speeds and rumbling exhaust notes. Still others are luxury vehicles with a high price tag that aim to provide prestige and refinement. Regardless of what kind of automobiles they are, the best ones go beyond their basic functions to set themselves apart from their competition. Whether that extra step is an ultra-efficient electric drive system or a raucous V8, the best cars deliver the best combination of function, form, and style.