Automobiles are four-wheeled vehicles that carry one or more people and a small amount of cargo. They are distinguished from trucks, which are designed for the transport of freight, and buses, which are large public conveyances that carry a lot of passengers and a little cargo. In the United States, the term automobile is also used to refer to a passenger vehicle, which has a seat or seats for a number of people and is designed to transport them over long distances. Almost all modern automobiles are powered by an internal combustion engine, which burns gasoline or other fuel to create the energy that drives the wheels. The engine is usually water-cooled, and the power may be transmitted to the front wheels or, more typically, to all four wheels.

In the 19th century, the automobile revolutionized travel and business by allowing people to move easily between cities. In the 1920s, mass production techniques developed by Henry Ford and others allowed automobiles to become a common part of the economy and middle-class life in the United States. In recent decades, car manufacturers have adapted their models to appeal to consumer expectations and market trends.

Despite this, some Americans are opting to forgo owning a car or are choosing to use public transportation if it is available, driving their own cars less frequently. The emergence of new technologies such as cell phones, navigation devices, and internet access have made these options more appealing than ever to many consumers. In addition, young people – known as Generation Y – are turning away from the automobile, preferring to walk, take public transit or carpool with friends.

While public transportation is often cheaper than the cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle, it can be slower and inconvenient than driving. In some cases, it can be unsafe to wait late at night for a bus or to commute in the rain. Those who have a lot of commuting to do or who live in rural areas often find that owning a car is necessary for their livelihoods.

In addition to convenience, owning a car provides a sense of freedom and independence, especially for those with jobs that require frequent traveling. An automobile can make it possible to visit family and friends in places that are difficult to reach by public transit or that are far from urban centers. It can also be a vital asset for maintaining social connections and keeping economic opportunities within reach.

The automobile was first invented and perfected in Germany and France in the late 1800s, though Americans quickly came to dominate the industry in the early 1900s. Engineers such as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz and Nicolaus Otto were pioneers in this area. After World War II, companies such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler dominated the industry. Today, automobiles are produced worldwide by a wide variety of manufacturers.

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