Automobiles are the primary means of transport in most nations of the world. Their widespread use has led to a wide variety of designs, each intended for particular purposes. Off-road vehicles require durable, simple systems that can be easily maintained, while those designed for high-speed driving must meet stringent performance standards and provide passenger comfort on long trips.
When Henry Ford introduced modern mass production techniques at his Highland Park, Michigan plant in 1910, the automobile became affordable for the average middle-class family. This revolutionized industrial manufacturing and sparked the development of related industries. A huge demand for gas and rubber prompted the creation of new jobs in vulcanization and road design; oil and gasoline suppliers prospered; and services such as convenience stores grew to serve the needs of motorists.
As automobiles proliferated, people began to move away from their home towns to live where they could afford it. This was a huge change for the economy, as horse breeders and buggy makers took a hit. It also gave rise to suburban areas that wouldn’t have developed without the automobile. Women were able to take their own cars on trips across the country, and in 1916 two women made a pretty bold car trip with “votes for women” banners to promote their cause.
The automobile has also brought new laws, including safety regulations and licensing requirements. It has impacted the environment as well, contributing to air pollution and consuming large amounts of energy. New technology is emerging that promises to address these problems, such as hybrid automobiles in which an internal combustion engine drives the wheels while cruising and recharging an electric motor while stopped.