Automobiles are vehicles designed to carry people and things on four wheels. They have a powerful, modern appeal that symbolizes freedom of movement and action and the hope of a better future.

The technical building blocks of automobiles date back several hundred years to the late 1600s when Christiaan Huygens invented a type of internal combustion engine sparked by gunpowder. The modern car was developed in Germany and France toward the end of the 1800s by such inventors as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, and Nicolaus Otto. But it was in America that the automotive industry truly thrived. With its huge land area and a hinterland of scattered and isolated villages, American manufacturers could build automobiles in greater volume and at lower prices than Europe. Cheap raw materials and a tradition of manufacturing innovation encouraged the proliferation of small producers.

In the first half of the twentieth century, Ford innovated mass production techniques that wiped out many of these small firms and established the dominant position of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler as the Big Three automakers by 1980. Other innovations include electric ignition and the electric self-starter (both designed by Charles Kettering for the Cadillac Motor Company in 1910-1911), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes. Various pistonless rotary engine designs have also attempted to compete with the conventional piston and crankshaft design but with little success.

One of the most important advantages of owning a car is the ability to travel long distances quickly and easily. This frees up your time to spend on work, shopping, and visiting friends and family. It also makes it possible to reach your destination in an emergency, such as when a child becomes sick or you have an urgent work meeting.