Automobiles are self-propelled motor vehicles that have four wheels and an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. Also called cars or motorcars, they are one of the world’s most universal of modern technologies and an industry of enormous size and profitability.
The automobile revolutionized both industry and everyday life. New jobs and industries sprang up to manufacture the car’s parts, to provide the fuel it burned, and to supply the services such as gas stations. Automobiles changed lifestyles and gave people more freedom than ever before. People could travel to places far away, and businesses like restaurants and hotels were able to expand their markets.
Invented and perfected in Germany and France during the late 1800s, by 1900 the United States had a greater need for automobiles than Europe did, and was home to companies like Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler that would dominate the industry until after World War II. The American automobile industry innovated mass production techniques, and with the Model T, the first affordable car for the masses, the age of personal automobility began.
But, as this book shows, the era of the annually restyled road cruiser ended with federal standards for automotive safety and emissions, escalating oil prices after the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, and with changing consumer tastes. Today, although Americans are still overwhelmingly automobile-dependent, the automobile no longer acts as a progressive force for change. It is being eclipsed by new forces-the Internet, the laser, the computer-that are melding our automobile-based society into a new Information Age.