Automobiles – America’s Most Ubiquitous Technology


Automobiles are one of the world’s most ubiquitous of modern technologies, with more than 73 million vehicles produced worldwide in 2017. The automobile is a four-wheeled vehicle designed for passenger transportation and propelled by an internal-combustion engine using a volatile fuel. Technical innovations in the body, chassis, engine, drive system, control systems and safety devices have made possible today’s sophisticated automotive industry.

Inventors and engineers have been working on the automobile for centuries. Leonardo Da Vinci drafted theoretical plans for the first car, and a century later French engineer Cugnot unveiled a steam-powered car. The automobile as we know it was perfected in Germany and France in the late 1800s by Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, Nicolaus Otto and Emile Levassor. Henry Ford innovated mass production techniques, and lowered the price of his Model T runabout to $575 in 1912 (although he did not introduce the conveyor belt-based assembly line at his Highland Park, Michigan, factory until 1913-1914).

The automobile fueled America’s long-standing predilection for personal freedom of movement, action and living, and brought with it new laws, government requirements, pollution, traffic jams, speed limits and highways. It also brought the suburbanization of America’s cities and the growth of a wide range of leisure activities. As it became less expensive and easier to use, the automobile helped people escape from urban life in search of quieter, more comfortable surroundings.