Automobiles are self-propelled motor vehicles which generally have four wheels and an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. Originally a horseless carriage, the modern automobile owes much of its development to two German engineers, Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler.
A number of different types of engines drive modern automobiles, including piston-type, water-cooled, and air-cooled. In general, the engine is mounted in front of the vehicle and power is transmitted to the front or all four wheels. In some vehicles, the engine is located just forward of the rear axle; this system has the advantage of distributing weight more evenly.
During the late 1800s, Europeans began building and selling cars in large numbers. In the United States, Henry Ford developed mass-production techniques and established the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, Michigan.
The United States also had a larger population than Europe, which meant a greater need for transportation. The availability of inexpensive raw materials encouraged the manufacturing of automobiles in this country.
In addition, American companies developed cheaper ways to assemble the components of cars, which enabled them to compete more effectively with their European counterparts. During World War I, the car was vital to American industrial expansion and by the 1920s Ford, General Motors and Chrysler had emerged as the world’s major auto makers.
After World War II, automobile production soared in Europe and Asia to meet the increasing demand for new vehicles. By 1980, the automobile industry was a shared global enterprise with Japan as the leading producer.