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Unit 1: Driving Responsibilities

1.6 : History of the automobile

Automobile, brief history and impact on sociological changes and economic conditions.

Evolving from earlier experiments with steam-powered vehicles, models using the gasoline-fueled internal-combustion engine were first developed by the German engineers Karl Benz (1885) and Gottlieb Daimler (1886). U.S. leadership in automobile production began with Henry Ford´s founding (1903) of the Ford Motor Co., its production (1908) of the inexpensive Model T, and its development of assembly-line techniques. General Motors, Ford´s principal competitor, became the world´s largest automobile manufacturer in the 1920s, and U.S. dominance of the field continued until the 1970s, when it was challenged by growing sales of Japanese and German cars. Concern about pollution from gasoline combustion has led to the development of cars powered by electricity from rechargeable storage batteries and by the combustion of natural gas, but such vehicles have been limited in the distance they can travel and have only been used on a small scale, largely in metropolitan areas. The development of the automobile resulted in major sociological changes and caused new economic conditions.

The main sociological changes caused over the years by the automobile include (a) increased mobility of the US population, (b) accelerated development of remote areas that would not have otherwise been accessible, (c) the ability to live farther from places of work (suburbia), (d) increased access to goods and services, (e) urban sprawl, (f) reduced extended family and multi-generational households, and (g) increased access to better education and healthcare.

The main economic and health impacts of the automobile over the years including (a) the creation of an industry which employs a significant number of people, (b) the creation of new technologies and industries to support and supply them, (c) a significant monetary cost in injury and property damage, and (d) increased air and  water pollution.

Modern Era Vehicles


The modern era has ended the American hegemony in car production and experienced a transformation of interests in the automobile. Previously, car buyers were attracted by size and style. Concerns about fuel efficiency and the environment have driven design changes that have resulted in smaller vehicles and a return to the possibilities presented by the electric designs from more than a century ago that were dropped in favor of the internal combustion engine. Once again, the world of the automobile is awash with design innovations, as car companies look to create vehicles powered by electricity, hydrogen and even solar power.

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