An automobile is a self-propelled vehicle that has wheels, a driver, and is powered by gasoline. It may carry passengers and other cargo. The term “automobile” is often used interchangeably with the terms “motorcycle” and “bicycle.” However, there are some legal distinctions.
Most definitions of the term automobile say it is a vehicle that can carry one to eight people. They are fueled by petroleum, diesel, or propane and run on roads, or they can be stationary vehicles that are powered by battery. Automobiles are usually four-wheeled and have seats for the passengers. Some cars also have cargo compartments and are designed for use by multiple drivers.
Inventors in the late 1800s began experimenting with different designs, with some coming up with the first automobiles. The first gasoline car was built by Edward Butler in 1884. His three-wheeler had a horizontal single-cylinder engine that was driven by a chain to the rear wheel. He was recognized by the British Royal Automobile Club.
In the early 1900s, the automobile took off in Europe, but the industry in the United States was struggling. By the mid-twentieth century, the American car industry was the largest, with Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler leading the way. After World War II, the automobile industry boomed in the U.S. With assembly lines and mass production, the price of the Model T dropped, making the automobile more accessible to middle class families.
After World War II, Japanese and Korean auto makers made their presence known. Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha became popular with Americans. Their advertisements featured colorful illustrations and a cheerful tone. These companies hired eight employees to build their automobiles, with the goal of selling at least 1,000 units a month.
A second type of automobile, called a motorcycle, has been around for centuries. The first motorcycles were velocipedes, or cycle carts, that had engines attached. While a motorcycle could go fast, it did not have the range of a steam engine. Eventually, more inventors worked on designs for motorcycles.
Before the 1930s, most cars had a two-cylinder, four-stroke gas engine. This engine was invented by Gottlieb Daimler, a German engineer. His design was small and lightweight. In addition, his engine was injected with gasoline. Ultimately, it set the standard for all car engines.
Another inventor, Edouard Delamare-Debouteville, constructed a single-cylinder, four-stroke engine from stove gas. This engine was much better than the designs of Daimler and Benz. But Delamare-Debouteville’s car was only a little ahead of the car designs of Benz and Daimler.
As gasoline became more and more popular in the early 1900s, the automobile overtook the streets of Europe. By the 1920s, gasoline-powered automobiles had become the standard for driving on the roads. During this time, manufacturers also improved upon the designs of the earliest cars.
The automobile was a solution to a 19th-century dream of a self-propelling carriage. Unlike the horse-drawn carriage, which was limited to slow speeds and inconvenient to start, cars were faster, more efficient, and could travel further.