Automobiles are vehicles that are designed for transporting people and cargo over long distances. They have become the primary mode of personal transportation in most parts of the world, with more than 1.4 billion cars in use worldwide. The automobile has revolutionized modern life, making it conceivable, or at least highly convenient, for most people to live in different locations without moving home permanently or relying on expensive taxis and public transit systems.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the modern automobile go back several hundred years. The first automobiles were run by steam, electricity or battery power. Steam powered vehicles could travel quickly but were difficult to start and had a limited range, while electric vehicles required time consuming recharging. The automobile as we know it was born in Germany and France toward the end of the nineteenth century with the invention of the internal combustion engine by such men as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, Nicolaus Otto and Emile Levassor.
Many innovations have been made in automotive design to improve safety, fuel economy and performance. Most of these developments have been the result of extensive research and development programs funded by the major automobile manufacturers. The automotive industry has also experienced major breakthroughs in production techniques that allow it to make a wide variety of automobiles at affordable prices. These innovations include the introduction of mass production by Ransom Eli Olds at his Oldsmobile factory in 1902 and Henry Ford’s assembly line method of manufacturing.