Automobiles are self-propelled vehicles that are primarily used for the transportation of passengers and goods. The most popular types of automobiles are sedans, sports cars, limousines, vans, and SUVs.
An automobile is a complex technical system with numerous subsystems that have specific design functions. These include body, chassis, engine, drivetrain, control systems, safety systems, and emission control systems.
Cars are the most important means of personal transportation in the United States and many other countries. More than 1.4 billion passenger cars are in operation worldwide, and about 70 million new units are manufactured each year.
The development of the modern automobile can be traced to the invention of the internal combustion engine by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the late 1600s. Early engines were steam-powered, but in the 19th century electric power and gasoline were also considered possibilities.
In 1885, German inventor Karl Benz patented the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, which was powered by an internal combustion engine. In 1888, he and his wife Bertha drove the vehicle for 106 km (about 65 miles), demonstrating its practical use as a means of travel.
Since the 19th century, a number of manufacturers have competed to produce the most technologically advanced automobile. Often, a single company produces multiple different models to keep up with consumer demand and increase sales. Manufacturers also introduce new models regularly to capitalize on proprietary technology.