Automobiles are vehicles that have two or more wheels and are powered by an engine. They may be passenger cars, vans, pickup trucks, sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), and buses. They are often designed to be comfortable and practical.

The first automobiles were built by German inventor Carl Benz in 1886, and the first mass-produced, affordable cars were manufactured by Henry Ford in 1908. These early cars were made with interchangeable parts, which helped reduce production costs and speed up the assembly process.

Cars were initially used for transporting people and their belongings, but over time they were developed to carry goods as well. They are now a vital part of the modern economy, with an estimated 1.4 billion cars in operation worldwide and nearly 70 million new models produced annually.

Automotive engineering focuses on the design and construction of automotive systems, including bodies, chassis, engines, and drivetrains. It also deals with the development of new technical advances that can improve vehicle performance, safety, and efficiency.

A car’s design depends on many factors, including the type of use it will be put to and how it will be adapted for that use. The engine, for example, may be located in a front, mid, or rear position, and the arrangement of other components is influenced by this choice as well.

Changing technology has made it possible to build cars that are smaller, more fuel-efficient, and safer. These features are useful, but they can create a more complicated and expensive automobile.

The automotive industry has been a significant economic and social contributor, providing one out of every six jobs in the United States. However, it has become increasingly recognized as a major contributor to environmental pollution, urban sprawl, the rising cost of living, and accidents and injuries.

For these reasons, automobile manufacturing has become increasingly regulated and government-subsidized. In the US, there are now over 200 manufacturers. The Big Three — Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler — dominate the industry, but small independents continue to make a significant contribution to American transportation.

Today’s automobiles are more powerful, faster, more safe, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly than their predecessors. This is due to improvements in the body, engine, suspension, control systems, and emissions-control systems.

A modern automobile consists of four to eight wheels and is typically powered by an internal combustion engine or an electric motor. The automotive industry employs over two million workers around the world.

It is the most important industrial sector in many countries, accounting for a large portion of the world’s gross domestic product. It provides employment for millions of people and contributes to many aspects of the social fabric, including education, healthcare, and housing.

In the United States, automotive manufacturing contributed more than $1.5 trillion to GDP in 2006. The automotive industry employed an estimated 500,000 people directly and indirectly, and created more than one million construction and service jobs.

It has been recognized for decades that the automobile is a major social and economic problem, contributing to urban sprawl, air pollution, and an increasing cost of living. It also threatens to deplete the world’s oil resources.