Automobiles are motor vehicles for transporting passengers, usually having four wheels and powered by an internal combustion engine, using a volatile fuel. Automobiles can be found in use around the world, being one of the most universal of modern technologies.

They allow people to travel long distances without having to wait for a ride or rely on other means of transportation. They are also faster than walking or riding a bike, and can carry more than one person. They can go where buses or trains (steam-powered, diesel-powered, light rail) cannot. These vehicles can also be used to haul cargo, and there are special types of automobiles designed for off road or other extreme conditions.

The earliest automobiles were powered by steam, electricity or gasoline. Karl Benz, who invented the first modern gasoline-powered car in 1886, is considered to have popularized the automobile. By 1900 there were over a million cars in the United States. The modern automobile was a driving force in America’s development into a consumer society, providing much of its economy and creating many new industries that sprang up to meet the demand for cars and their parts. Some of these industries included oil and gas, steel, rubber, plastics, and services such as convenience stores.

It is argued that the automobile helped to break down racial and class barriers, as it allowed working-class people to own their own vehicles. As a result, it became possible for people to travel more often and to visit relatives in other cities. The automobile also opened up new social and work possibilities for people. For example, it became possible to move from town to city in search of a job or for better living conditions.

As the industry grew, Americans started to dominate the market worldwide, particularly after Henry Ford introduced his mass production methods in 1908. His Model T automobiles made it affordable for people of all income levels to own a car.

After the end of World War II, automobile production and innovation slowed down. American manufacturers became concerned with the nonfunctional styling of their cars and the impact on air pollution and dwindling world oil reserves. They also started to lose out to foreign competition that focused on designing functional, fuel-efficient cars.

Today there are more than 73 million automobiles in the world. The automobile continues to be an important part of the world’s economy. However, concerns about the environmental and health impacts of automobiles are growing. There are also worries about the cost of gasoline and other forms of energy, as well as safety issues.

Whether it is an artful mid-century modern design or an old Model T, the automobile has become an integral part of American culture. It is impossible to imagine modern life without the automobile. It is a symbol of the freedom and independence that is often celebrated in American culture. This is reflected in the many different ways that the automobile has been depicted in movies, music, television and other cultural products.