An automobile is a self-propelled motor vehicle that carries passengers on land. It is usually driven by an internal combustion engine and fueled most often by gasoline, but also diesel, balloon gas, electricity or other fuels. The automobile is one of the most universal of modern technologies, and its production is among the world’s largest industries.

Automobiles are one of the most important inventions of the twentieth century and have profoundly changed human life. They allow people to live in one location and work in another, opening up a huge range of new possibilities for careers, lifestyles and relationships. Without them, modern life would be inconceivable. They are now the primary mode of transport for most families in the developed world, and people drive more than three trillion kilometers (five trillion miles) per year on average worldwide.

Early automobiles used steam, electric power or a battery-powered internal combustion engine to turn the wheels. They were often heavy, inconvenient to start and had a limited range before they could be refueled. By the end of the nineteenth century the true automobile had been perfected by Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Nicolaus Otto. Benz’s 1901 Mercedes was the first truly modern motorcar in every way.

The United States, with its vast land area and scattered population, had great potential demand for automobiles that were cheaper than those of Europe. American manufacturing traditions enabled manufacturers to use mass-production techniques that reduced the price of cars until they became affordable for middle-class households.