Automobiles and Society
Few inventions in modern times have had as much influence on societies and economies as the automobile. In its various forms, it has become the primary means of transportation for many people around the world. It also has revolutionized transportation of goods and services, and it has transformed entire industries. The automobile is a complex system with thousands of subsystems, each of which has specific design functions. The arrangement, choice, and type of these systems depend largely on the intended use of the car. For example, an automobile that is designed for city driving must have a simple and durable system with low fuel consumption, while a high-speed sports car demands more passenger comfort options and greater engine performance.
In the late nineteenth century, several different types of automobiles were developed. The first were powered by steam engines, which required that water be brought to a boil before the car could be driven. Later, manufacturers developed gasoline-powered engines that used internal combustion to produce power. These were more reliable than steam engines, but they were still difficult to operate. The advent of the electric motor in the early twentieth century made these cars much easier to operate.
The automobile has influenced almost every aspect of society, including the design of cities, and it has revolutionized the delivery of police, ambulance, fire, and utility services. It has reshaped industry and commerce, and it has enabled people to relocate easily for new jobs or to change careers. It has reshaped the way we travel for pleasure, and it has encouraged urban sprawl, which degrades landscapes and contributes to traffic congestion. It has given individuals great freedom of movement, but it also can encourage reckless behavior and the exploitation of people in need.
During the postwar era, engineering of the American automobile was subordinated to nonfunctional styling and lowered quality, while concerns surfaced about automobile pollution and the draining of dwindling world oil reserves. By the 1960s, these concerns gave rise to new consumer demands that included better safety, fuel efficiency, and functional design. This opened the market to Japanese and European manufacturers, whose small cars with advanced designs were selling well.
Automobiles are complex machines that require sophisticated design and development. The basic components of a modern automobile include the engine, fuel system, transmission, electrical system, and cooling and lubrication systems. The chassis, which is analogous to the skeletal system of the human body, supports these systems and provides safety and comfort for passengers. The suspension system, steering system, and braking system are all attached to the chassis. The wheels and tires are supported by the suspension system, which absorbs shocks and variations in road surface and maintains contact with the road surface. The braking system is designed to apply the brakes as needed to stop the automobile. Computer technology has improved the performance and safety of automobiles, but it also has raised production costs. Mass production techniques, which were first developed for the automobile, have been adapted for use in most other manufacturing industries.