An automobile is a four-wheeled vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. It has become the dominant form of transportation, with 1.4 billion of them in operation worldwide. In the United States, on average, an automobile travels more than three trillion miles (five trillion kilometres) each year.
The automobile was first invented and perfected in Germany and France toward the end of the nineteenth century by such men as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Nicolaus Otto. But it was American businessman and engineer Henry Ford who transformed the useful gadget into a practical consumer good by innovating assembly-line manufacturing techniques. These reduced the price of Ford’s Model T to a level that made it affordable for middle-class Americans.
Automobiles have had a profound impact on society. The ability to transport people over long distances has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, including larger work opportunities and more choices for where one wants to live in relation to the job. Automobiles also have brought changes in leisure activities, such as traveling and camping, and the rise of new services like restaurants and fast food chains.
In recent years, however, the era of the annually restyled road cruiser has come to an end as consumers have demanded more fuel-efficient and functionally designed cars. These demands have been met mainly by European cars produced by Volkswagen, Honda and other firms, but also by American automakers such as General Motors, Chrysler and Ford, which have developed models that are more fuel-efficient, safer and environmentally friendly.