For some people, the car is a convenient form of transportation. But for others, the car is an exciting hobby. Some people spend their lives collecting valuable cars. Others drive them in races, including the Mille Miglia in Italy, the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, and the world-famous Indianapolis 500. For many people, cars are more than transportation: they are a source of passion and pleasure. Yet cars can also be a source of many problems.
In 1903, Henry Ford began selling the Model T car for $825. His company, Ford Motors, was the first to produce cars in large numbers. This made the car available to large numbers of people and helped them to travel long distances quickly and easily. The car has brought people much closer to places of work, study, and entertainment.
Many people also work in car-related industries: fixing cars, washing cars, advertising cars, and selling car products such as stereos and cellular phones.
Most Americans buy a new car every five or six years. This means that one American may own a dozen cars in a lifetime. In fact, there are more cars than people in the United States. In New York City, 2.5 million cars move in and out of the city each day. In this traffic, the average speed is sometimes 8.1 miles per hour. This speed could easily be reached by riding a horse instead of driving a car. But New Yorkers continue to drive, just as people do in California, where freeways are often very crowded.
Some environmentalists believe that forms of public transportation such as buses and trains have not been fully developed in the United States. They try to teach others that public transportation saves fuel and helps to protect the environment. Many people are unhappy with car traffic and pollution, as well as with the use of beautiful land for building new roads. One environmentalist, Jan Lundberg, left his Mercedes-Benz in Los Angeles and moved to the forests of northern California. There he works on the Auto-Free Times, a newspaper that teaches people how to live without driving. Lundberg travels on foot, on bicycle, or by bus. Before he decided to live without a car, Lundberg worked for the oil companies, studying the prices of gasoline.
Lundberg and other environmentalists dream of turning parking lots into parks and replacing cars with bicycles, but most people around the world believe that the car is a necessary part of life in today's world. Still, there is an important question that must be answered: What kind of fuel will we use when gasoline is no longer available? Lundberg believes that by the year 2021, there will no longer be oil for gasoline makers to use. To solve this problem, car companies in Korea, Japan, Europe, and the United States are trying to develop an electric car that will not require gasoline at all.
The electric car is not a new idea. In had success with American women in the early 1900s. Women liked electric cars because they were quiet and did not pollute the air. Electric cars were also easier to start than gasoline-powered ones. But gasoline-powered cars were faster, and in the 1920s they became much more popular.
The electric car was not used again until the 1970s, when there were serious problems with the availability of oil. Car companies began to plan for a future without gasoline. The General Motors Company had plans to develop an electric car by 1980; however, oil became available again, and this car was never produced.
Today there is a new interest in the electric car, which is partly related to a passion for speed and new technology. In 1977, engineer Paul MacCready, designed a human-powered airplane that successfully completed a three-mile flight. A similar airplane crossed the English Channel in 1977, followed by a solar-powered airplane. In 1987, the Sunraycer, a solar- powered car, won a 2,000-mile race in Australia. As a result of this success, the General Motors Company began new work on the development of the electric car. The Toyota Company recently decided to spend $800 million a year on the development of new car technology. Many engineers believe that the electric car will lead to other forms of technology being used for transportation.
Cars may change, but their importance will not. Cars are important to nearly everyone, including engineers, businesspeople, environmentalists, and even poets. Poet Curt Brown believes that cars are part of our passion for new places and new experiences. According to Brown, this "very, very comfortable flying chair" will continue to bring us travel and adventure, no matter how it changes in the future(3839).