Automobiles are vehicles that use an internal combustion engine to move people and their possessions. They are usually four-wheeled and primarily used for passenger transport.
Generally considered as the most advanced of all transportation technologies, automobiles have evolved from the steam car of the 15th century to the modern electric vehicle. While early inventors developed different forms of automobiles, it was Karl Benz in Germany who created the first real automobile and received a patent for it in 1885.
Today’s cars are complex technical systems with thousands of subsystems that employ a wide range of materials and components. Some of the most common automotive subsystems include engine, transmission, steering, brakes, suspension, fuel tank and tire.
The emergence of mass production techniques by Ford in the late 1920s marked the end of the era when small automobile manufacturers competed freely with each other in an industry that had thrived during the 19th century. As the world economy grew, and with it the demand for new automobiles, competition in this market became increasingly fierce.
In the United States, as in Europe, automobile manufacturing became one of the first industries to use an assembly line, with the goal of reducing costs and producing cars quickly. This was a major step forward in the development of American technology and society, but also contributed to the decline of quality and reliability. As a result, by the mid-1960s, the average number of defects per unit of automotive production in the United States had reached twenty-four.