The Importance of Automobiles
Automobiles are one of the most important inventions in modern times. They connect cities, towns, and rural areas and enable people to travel far distances easily. They have shaped urban design and government services such as police, fire, and highways, as well as created new businesses such as hotels and gas stations. The automobile has also transformed social and recreational activities, and given people freedom of movement that was not possible before its introduction. In the United States alone, three trillion miles (five trillion kilometres) are driven each year.
The automotive industry has become the economic backbone of a consumer goods-oriented society. It is a leading supplier of jobs, and it has spawned ancillary industries such as petroleum and rubber. It has even influenced agriculture through the use of automobile-powered equipment such as tractors and combine harvesters.
Its importance has led to a great deal of regulation, including licensing of drivers and the enforcement of safety standards, in order to reduce accidents caused by poorly-trained or reckless operators. It has also impacted the environment through the emission of pollutants and the drain on dwindling world oil supplies.
Automobiles were first invented and perfected in Germany and France in the late nineteenth century, but the Americans came to dominate the industry by the 1920s. Henry Ford innovated mass-production techniques that became standard, and the big three of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler emerged as the dominant manufacturers in North America. Engineering was subordinated to questionable aesthetics and non-functional styling, however, and quality deteriorated to the point that in the mid-1960s American cars had an average of twenty-four defects per unit.