Automobiles are wheeled vehicles that run primarily on roads and carry people. They are powered by gasoline, usually with an internal combustion engine. An automobile is often equipped with seats for one to six people and may also have air conditioning, power steering, and power windows.
The automobile was an important force for change in twentieth-century America. It accelerated the spread of consumer goods and became the basis for a new type of economy in which many industries depended on the automotive industry for growth. In addition, it helped provide jobs and income for millions of Americans.
Early cars were steam and electric-powered. These were heavy and moved very slowly, but they made it possible to travel long distances and reach work and other destinations. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, manufacturers had started to produce more efficient, gas-powered automobiles.
In the United States, cheap raw materials and a tradition of mass manufacturing encouraged many small car companies to begin production. Henry Ford invented the modern assembly line, making it possible to produce large numbers of automobiles at a very low price. This allowed the automobile to be a popular choice for middle-class families.
The era of the annually restyled road cruiser ended with federal regulations on safety, emission of pollutants, and energy consumption; escalating oil prices following the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979; and a move to more fuel-efficient, functionally designed cars by the Japanese. The 2022 top-ranked brands by Consumer Reports were BMW, Subaru, and Volvo.