Automobiles are vehicles designed to transport passengers. The word automobile is also used to refer to any motorized road vehicle, including cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and trains.
The term “automobile” is derived from the French phrase for horseless carriage, which was first coined in the late 1600s by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens. Its invention revolutionized transportation. People gained greater freedom of movement and could spend more time doing leisure activities. Services like hotels, restaurants and amusement parks sprang up. But the automobile was expensive and caused environmental harm through pollution, as well as the need for roads, oil and gasoline.
During the first decades of the 20th century, industrial manufacturing techniques like Henry Ford’s assembly line brought automobile prices down so that middle-class families could afford them. Automobiles dominated the roadways and made it possible to travel to work or play in any location at any time.
Today’s automobiles are complex technical systems with subsystems that have specific design functions. Some are built from breakthroughs in materials science, such as high-strength plastics and alloys of steel and nonferrous metals. Others are the product of engineering innovation, such as electronic computers and advanced powertrains. Some have even been inspired by the human body, such as a rear-view camera or airbags to help protect occupants in an accident.