Automobiles are complex systems that incorporate a great variety of features in order to meet a broad range of needs. For example, automobiles intended for off-road use need rugged systems that can withstand severe overloads and operating conditions; products intended for high-speed roads must be optimized for passenger comfort and engine performance.
In addition, the suspension system must be able to absorb shocks and variations in road surface while maintaining contact with the road; this is especially important because steering of the automobile usually is performed by the front wheels. Finally, the engine must generate power for the wheels and do so without creating excessive noise or pollution. The automobile’s design must also be compatible with government requirements such as safety features, size and weight, and aerodynamics or ways to reduce the friction of airflow over the vehicle.
Few inventions in modern times have had as profound an impact on industry and society as the automobile. It gave people new opportunities for work, travel, and recreation. It led to the development of industries that produced and sold cars, parts, and fuel. It brought changes to cities and rural areas as they adapted to the increased traffic and needs of motorists. It also created a whole new class of services that grew up around the automobile, including hotels and restaurants, fast food joints, amusement parks and other recreation, and gas stations and convenience stores.
Karl Benz is usually credited with inventing the first automobile, but Henry Ford revolutionized the automotive industry by developing the assembly line so that the cost of the car could be reduced to a point that made it accessible to many middle-class Americans. He also realized that the automobile’s basic features could be standardized so that all vehicles could be built with the same components.