Designed for passenger transportation, automobiles are the most common form of transport in the world. Over 70 million vehicles are manufactured each year. Thousands of component parts make up a modern automobile. They include an engine, body, drivetrain, safety systems, and emission-control systems.
The invention of an internal combustion engine by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the late 1600s is the basis for the modern automobile. Although it had been used in many vehicles since then, the discovery of gasoline in 1885 was the first breakthrough. A number of manufacturers began to use this new technology to produce cheaper automobiles.
In the United States, the automotive industry became a major player in the mid-twentieth century. The nation’s higher per capita income led to demand for cars. In addition, the nation’s industrial tradition made it possible to produce cars for less. The United States also had a chronic shortage of skilled labor. This created an incentive for mechanization of industrial processes.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Frenchman Emile Levassor and German engineer Karl Benz both pioneered the development of automobiles. However, the European auto industry did not begin to use mass production techniques until the early 1930s.
After World War II, automobile production soared in Japan. The United States, though, had a more equitable income distribution and a higher need for automotive transportation than Europe. As a result, it was relatively easy for the United States to become the world’s leading automobile producer.
The introduction of assembly lines and mass production techniques by Henry Ford in the 1910s dramatically reduced the cost of producing the Model T. This innovation allowed Ford to sell his cars in large quantities at relatively low prices. The automobiles that Ford produced became very popular. By 1927, the Model T coupe had sold 15 million units.
The Ford Motor Company was able to manufacture 100 cars a day. These cars were very well built and were affordable to middle class families. The company also outpaced its competitors in reconciling state-of-the-art design with a moderate price.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the “Big Three” automobile companies – General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler – had emerged as the dominant players in the automotive industry. They accounted for 80 percent of the industry’s output. Throughout the next decade, these companies became the most successful automakers in the world.
After the economic crisis of the 1980s, the automobile industry began to rebound. In the late 1990s, sales had risen from 304,062 in 1990 to 571,580 in 1995. The increase was caused by government subsidies and pent-up demand following severe flooding in late 2011. The automobile industry has become one of the world’s largest industries, with nearly a quarter of the world’s passenger cars being manufactured in the United States.
The automobile industry continues to grow today. The number of vehicle owners in the United States has been growing by about five to ten percent a year. The increasing popularity of these cars has helped to spur the economy.