The car, automobile, motor car or autocar usually has four-wheels and is a vehicle that uses its own motor engine system to transport passengers over purposely built roads.
In 1769 Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot of France arguably invented the first full-scale, self propelled mechanical vehicle or automobile. It was a steam-powered tricycle.
In 1807 Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude are believed to have built the world's first internal combustion engine. They called it a Pyréolophore. However, they chose to install it in a boat not a car. That same year a Swiss inventor François Isaac de Rivaz finished his own internal combustion engine and used it to create the world's first internal combustion engine vehicle.
The Benz Patent-Motorwagen is believed to be the first modern automobile. It was built in 1886 by German inventor Carl Benz.
In August 1888, Carl Benz's wife, Bertha Benz, became the first person to drive a car over a long distance. Without telling her husband she drove one of their Benz Patent-Motorwagens along with her two eldest sons from a town called Mannheim in southern Germany to Pforzheim. Automobile trips before this were usually short drives, she wanted to prove the automobile they had invented was a useful contraption, that the general public could use.
Bertha Benz's road trip was a pioneering drive and a key event in the technical development of the car. Covering 106 km (66 miles) each way she did the round trip in two days, solving numerous problems on the way. When the brakes needed repairing she invented brake lining. She used a hatpin to clean a blocked fuel pipe and insulated a wire with a garter. She located fuel at the city pharmacy in Wiesloch (hailed as the first fuel station in the world) and on her return home made other suggestions, such as the need of another gear for climbing hills.
In 1892, Rudolf Diesel a German engineer invented a "New Rational Combustion Engine" which lead him to building the first Diesel Engine in 1897.
As automobiles became more popular a need arose to manufacture affordable cars on a large-scale basis. Ransom Olds in 1902, debuted a production-line manufacturing system at his Oldsmobile factory in Michigan, USA.
Henry Ford's Model T car, introduced in 1908, is often regarded as the most famous of all early automobiles. It was the first car to become publically affordable, especially after Ford massively improved the production-line manufacturing system.
In 1914, Ford created a production-line system that focused on synchronization, precision, and specialization. Ford's cars came off the line much faster than previous methods (from 12.5 man-hours down to just 1.5), which increased productivity yet used less manpower. By assigning each worker a specified area rather than allowing them to roam about, injuries were dramatically reduced.
Ford could afford to pay workers more as the number of workers needed decreased. Combined with the high efficiency output a term called "Fordism" was surmised. It lead to most major manufacturing industries adopting the method for various products which contributed to the economic rise of the United States.
Today, various body styles for the car exist such as the sedan/saloon, hatchback, station wagon/estate and van.
In 2010 it was estimated that there were over 1 billion vehicles in the world, up from half a billion in 1986. The number of cars on the road continues to increase rapidly year on year especially in developing countries such as India and China.
Petrol (gasoline) and diesel are still used to fuel the internal combustion engine today. However, both of these fuels cause air pollution and contribute to climate change. With rapidly increasing oil prices and concerns about the environmental impacts there is a lot of work underway to produce viable future alternative power systems for cars. Hybrid vehicles, plug-in electric vehicles, hydrogen vehicles and vehicles using alternative fuels such as natural gas are gaining popularity.
Fully autonomous vehicles (driverless cars) currently exist in prototype (Google has developed a driverless car). These cars are expected to be available commercially around the year 2020. Autonomous cars could help to reduce the amount of vehicles needed on the road and dramatically increase safety.