Automobiles are vehicles designed to run primarily on roads and carry passengers. They typically have four wheels, seat one to six people, and be powered by an internal combustion engine.

The automobile, whose development symbolizes both the promise and the pitfalls of the modern world, has been a major force in economic and social change. Its invention made travel possible for most citizens of developed nations, and it brought the benefits of industrialization to remote areas. It also has generated new jobs, spawned dozens of spin-off industries, and created demand for countless goods and services, from vulcanized rubber to road construction. It has also sparked debates over its effect on the environment and health, as well as promoting lifestyle changes.

Modern automobiles owe their existence to Henry Ford, who introduced mass production techniques at his Highland Park, Michigan plant in 1910. His Model T runabout cost less than half the average annual salary of an American worker, and by 1912 automobile ownership had spread beyond the richest classes. As cars became more affordable, they spurred the growth of middle-class families and changed the way Americans lived. They allowed urban dwellers to rediscover pristine natural landscapes, and rural residents to shop in towns and cities. They encouraged family vacations, and helped teenagers develop a sense of independence that improved their dating lives. The car also enabled suburbanites to travel into urban areas, and urban residents to escape to the countryside.

As the automobile grew in popularity, it began to influence the architecture of cities, with architects designing houses and stores to accommodate the needs of drivers. A typical automobile interior includes a steering wheel and pedals, as well as seats, mirrors, and air conditioning. Some models have multiple doors and a trunk for storage. The exterior of the car can be customized with a variety of paint and trim colors. Many are designed with a hood ornament and taillights, as well as bumpers and fender flares.

The modern automobile industry is dominated by a few large companies that are often called the Big Three. These include Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler (formed from Maxwell in 1925 by Walter P. Chrysler). The industry exploded during World War II, as automakers produced military vehicles in great numbers. After the war, the Big Three took advantage of the growing consumer market and established a wide network of dealerships. This expanded their market share to more than 80 percent of the world’s automobiles, and they continue to dominate the industry today.

The automobile is one of the most significant innovations in human history, and it continues to shape both our daily lives and our economy. However, its negative impacts on the environment are also becoming more serious. Automobiles produce carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming, and they release other pollutants into the atmosphere. To limit these effects, motorists can drive fuel-efficient cars, maintain their vehicle properly, and use public transportation when possible. This will not eliminate greenhouse gas emissions completely, but it will reduce them significantly.