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An automobile is a self-powered (carrying its own engine), wheeled vehicle. Also called cars, from the word carriage.

The typical automobile has an internal combustion engine and four wheels, and comes in configurations such as sedan, convertible, station wagon, sports coupe, hatchback, van, truck (lorry), and SUV. Three-wheeled automobiles have been built, but due to stability problems are not common.

The first automobiles were steam powered, then electric. Later on gasoline (petrol) and diesel engines were implemented.

While steam-powered vehicles were devised as the late 18th century, it is generally claimed that the first automobiles with an internal combustion engine were completed almost simultaneously in 1886 by two German inventors working independently, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. The large scale, production-line manufacturing of affordable automobiles was developed by Henry Ford in the 1910s.

The many varieties of automobile racing collectively constitute one of the most popular categories of sport in the world.

Major Subsystems of an Automobile

  • engine
    • fuel injection
    • engine configuration (V8, V6, V12, straight four, six, eights, flat-fours and sixes etc).
    • engine management systems
    • pollution control devices
    • exhaust system
    • turbo-chargers and superchargers
  • drivetrain
    • gearbox
    • differential
      • limited-slip differential
  • steering
  • brakes
    • disc brakes
    • drum brakes
    • anti-lock braking systems
  • wheels and tyres
  • suspension
    • MacPherson strut
    • wishbone
    • multi-link
    • torsion beam
    • semi-trailing arm
  • body
    • crumple zones
    • monocoque construction
  • interior equipment
    • passive safety
      • seat belts
      • airbags
    • controls
    • seats
    • ancilliary equipment (stereos, air conditioning, cruise control etc.)

With heavy taxes on fuel, particularly in Europe, tightening environmental laws in the United States, particularly in California, and the possibility of further restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, work on alternative power systems for vehicles continues. Attempts at building viable battery-powered electric vehicles continued throughout the 1990's (notably General Motors with the EV1), but cost and inferior driving range made them unviable. Current research and development is centred on "hybrid" vehicles that use both electric and combustion power, and longer-term efforts are based around electric vehicles powered by fuel cells. Other alternatives being explored involve methane and hydrogen-burning vehicles, and even the stored energy of compressed air (see Air Engine).

Some less or more well-known marques include, in alphabetic order:

Many of the above mentioned brands do no longer exist as separate companies. Some are totally extinct, and some are owned by larger companies. The companies and company groups are:

See also two stroke cycle, four stroke cycle, diesel cycle, rotary engine (Wankel), urban car, flying car, armored car.