An automobile, also called a car, is an engine-powered passenger vehicle that runs on road wheels. It may have four or more wheels and can be driven by a single person or a team of drivers. An automobile can be propelled by a gasoline or electric motor. It is the dominant mode of transportation in modern society, and it enables people to live and work wherever they choose.

The automobile was invented and perfected in Europe toward the end of the nineteenth century by Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, and Nicolaus Otto, but it took Henry Ford to make this useful gadget affordable for middle-class families. He innovated mass production techniques at his factory in Highland Park, Michigan. He paid his workers $5 a day, which was less than the average annual wage, and produced enough Model T runabouts to bring this new form of personal transport within the reach of most Americans.

Ford’s manufacturing methods were soon adopted by other American automakers. Heavy outlays of capital and larger volume of sales forced many small producers to merge, and by 1929 the industry was dominated by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, which had emerged from Maxwell in 1925 by Walter P. Chrysler.

During the postwar era the automotive market reached saturation at the same time as technological stagnation. Nonfunctional styling, poor quality, and high fuel consumption eroded consumer confidence in American cars. Questions arose about air pollution and the drain on dwindling world oil reserves, and manufacturers were forced to focus on producing for the war effort. This opened the door for foreign-made cars, especially the fuel-efficient, functionally designed, well-built small cars from Germany and Japan.

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