The Automobile Industry


The automobile industry encompasses the manufacturing, sale, and servicing of vehicles, including cars, trucks, vans, SUVs, and other passenger vehicles. The industry generates substantial global revenue and contributes to economic development in other sectors. It demands significant resources, such as petroleum and gasoline, steel, rubber, plastics, and energy, and it provides jobs in numerous industries, including manufacturing, construction, and maintenance. It also supports the development of roads, fuel stations, and transportation systems worldwide.


Many young people today are returning to the ways of their parents and grandparents, choosing not to buy or lease automobiles but instead to walk, take public transit when it is available, carpool with friends, and use ride-sharing services. However, for some—especially those in less densely populated areas where public transportation is limited or nonexistent—having access to a car can be worth the expense.


The scientific and technical building blocks for the automobile were laid several hundred years ago when Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented a type of internal combustion engine fueled by gunpowder. By the late 1800s, manufacturers were producing vehicles powered by steam and by battery electric motors. The disadvantages of steam were that it was heavy and tended to overheat, while battery-powered cars had a limited range and needed to be recharged often.

By the 1920s, gasoline-powered automobiles had overtaken the streets and byways of Europe and the United States. Businessman and engineer Henry Ford revolutionized industrial manufacturing with his assembly line, allowing him to produce so many cars that they became affordable for middle-class families. Other companies copied the technique and production exploded.