Automobiles and the American Economy

Automobiles are wheeled transportation vehicles that carry a driver and passengers. Typically they have four wheels and seat one to eight people. They are powered by internal combustion engines and operate mainly on roads. Automobiles are a major part of modern life and their manufacture and use contribute to many facets of the economy.

The automobile has transformed American society in many ways. It has reflected and facilitated the Americans’ predilection for freedom of movement, action, and living, though it also may have tended to obscure clear thinking about the responsibilities that come with such liberty. Its development helped create suburbia by enabling families to live away from city centers in houses surrounded by green grass lawns. It also spawned industries that supplied the materials for making cars and their parts, as well as services like gas stations and convenience stores.

The scientific and technical building blocks of the modern automobile date back several hundred years. The first commercially successful automobiles used steam power or batteries. By the late 1800s gasoline had begun to dominate the market. The advent of Henry Ford’s assembly line in 1908 enabled the production of cheap gas-powered Model T vehicles that made motor cars accessible to the general public. Postwar concerns about functional styling, safety, and the draining of world oil reserves brought a sharp decline in the American auto industry. The world’s automotive markets were penetrated first by German and then Japanese fuel-efficient, functionally designed, and well-built small cars.

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