What is an automobile or motor vehicle?

Do You Know Which Is World’s First Automobile or Motor Vehicle?

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What Makes An Automobile or a Motor Vehicle?

What is an Automobile? This word consists of two ancient Greek & Latin words. The word ‘autos’ means ‘self,’ and the term ‘mobilis’ meaning ‘movable.’ An automobile is a machine that can move on its self-power or a self-propelled vehicle. Besides, it produces the power needed for its propulsion from within and NOT from the outside. An automobile is specifically built for use only on roads. Hence, by definition, it is a machine designed to operate on the road or ground.

Sedan motor vehicle
Sedan motor vehicle

Furthermore, automobiles have evolved since their inception. There are many synonyms of an automobile. They are ‘Automotive,’ ‘Auto,’ ‘Autocar,’ ‘Autobuggy,’ ‘Car,’ ‘Motor,’ ‘Motor car,’ ‘Motor vehicle,’ ‘Motorcoach,’ “Motor wagon,’ and a ‘Horseless Carriage.’ Furthermore, an automobile is a self-propelled vehicle that is used for transportation purposes on the ground.


Therefore, an automobile is a piece of complex machinery. Hence, manufacturers pay great attention so that it performs safely, economically & efficiently. An automobile is a unit or equipment meant for transportation. It mainly consists of a chassis/frame and a body. It has power-generating and transmitting units mounted onto it. Besides, the chassis/frame is supported by tires and wheels through the springs and axles. These are a part of the front & rear suspension system.

Ladder chassis
Ladder chassis

Furthermore, the chassis/frame holds various components/sub-assemblies together in proper arrangement. The vehicle body provides protection/comfort to occupants. An engine produces power and supplies it to wheels through clutch/fluid-coupling and gearbox. However, the automobile propels by the friction/contact between road and wheels.

An artist's impression of the world's first automobile or motor vehicle
An artist's impression of the world's first automobile or motor vehicle

Evolution of Automobile:

  • In 1769 - French engineer Captain Nicholas Cugnot built the first road vehicle propelled by its own power. However, it was a three-wheeled, four-seater vehicle with a steam engine. It managed to reach a speed of 2.5 mph for 15 minutes.
  • 1880 – German & French engineers developed an internal combustion engine vehicle. The present-day automobiles are the further development of this vehicle.
  • 1885 – Karl Benz of Germany built a tricycle driven by an internal combustion engine.
  • 1885-86 – Gottlieb Daimler patented the internal combustion engine and later started running it in one of the vehicles.
  • 1895 – Charles E. Duryea and Elwood J. Haynes developed experimental automobiles in America.
  • 1895 – Panhard and Levassosr developed a car in France that had incorporated the automobile's main features as seen in today’s cars.
  • 1890-95 – Additionally, European designers also became active in developing cars
  • 1895 – In France, Panhard designed a vehicle with an engine in front of the chassis. It had a sliding gear transmission, brake pedals, clutch, and an accelerator.
  • 1900 – The automobiles' improved design made the general public accept that it is a really useful form for transportation.
  • 1906 –Manufacturing, production, and sale of automobiles became a popular business.
  • 1908 – Ford started a model with an initial production target of 20,000 vehicles – an unheard output of that time.
  • 1920 – Refinement in design. Spark-ignition gasoline engine & sliding gear transmission was common. The employment of water-cooled systems was common.
  • 1920 – Present Day – Automobiles continue to evolve in all the departments.

Generally, manufacturers classify vehicles in three main types:

  1. Single unit vehicles or load carriers
  2. Articulated vehicles
  3. Heavy tractor vehicles

With respect to different applications, various types of automobiles are classified as under:

According to the application:

  1. Auto-cycles and mopeds – for very short distances and generally solo-driven
  2. Scooters and Motorcycles – for moderate distances and up to two passengers (rider+pillion)
  3. Cars, Station Wagons, Vans, and Pick-ups – for long distances and up to 7-10 passengers and moderate load
  4. Lorries (Buses) and Trucks – for long distances and heavy load
  5. Tractors – for short-distances and moderate to heavy load
  6. Other automobiles such as earth moving equipment – for short distances and heavy to very heavy load

According to load-carrying capacity:

  1. Heavy Transport vehicles or Heavy Motor Vehicles: Buses, Coaches, Trucks, Tractor
  2. Medium Transport vehicles: Tempo, Minibus, Station Wagons, Vans
  3. Light Transport Vehicles or Light Motor Vehicles: Cars, Jeeps, Minivans
  4. Earth-moving equipment: Excavators, Backhoe Loaders, Bulldozers, Skid-Steer Loaders, Trenchers

According to the fuel used:

  1. Petrol
  2. Diesel
  3. Gas
  4. Electricity
  5. Steam

According to wheels and axles:

  1. Two-wheelers
  2. Three-wheelers
  3. Four-Wheelers
  4. Six-wheelers
  5. Single axle
  6. Twin axle
  7. Triple axle

According to the direction of steering:

  1. Left-hand drive
  2. Right-hand drive

According to the drive:

  1. Front-wheel drive – most cars
  2. Rear-wheel drive – most wagons
  3. Four-wheel drive – Most SUVs
  4. All-wheel drive – Some SUVs
  5. Six-wheel drive – Special vehicles such as Unimog

According to the engine's motion:

  1. Reciprocating – Piston engines
  2. Rotary – Wankel engine, Gas turbine

According to transmission:

  1. Conventional/Manual
  2. Semi-Automatic
  3. Automated Manual Transmission (AMT)
  4. Fully Automatic Transmission
  5. Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

According to suspension design:

  1. Conventional Suspension – Rigid Axle
  2. Independent Suspension – Coil, Torsion bar, Pneumatic

According to body type & number of doors:

  1. Sedan – Two or four doors
  2. Hatchback
  3. Convertible
  4. Station Wagon
  5. SUV
  6. Van

Generally, an automobile is made up of the following components:

  1. Basic structure or framework - chassis & frame
  2. source of energy - Engine or power plant
  3. Transmission and power train – Gearbox, differential, drive systems
  4. Super-structure -  Vehicle body
  5. Auxiliaries – Fuel system, Ignition system, Lubrication system, Cooling system, Electrical system
  6. Controls – Accelerator, Clutch system, Brake system, Steering system, Gear shift lever, Headlights lever, Engine start-stop switch, Horn button
  7. Indication – Dashboard, instruments, gauges, indicators

Specifying an automobile or motor vehicle on the following factors:

  1. Type – Whether it is a scooter, motorcycle, car, lorry, truck or bus
  2. Carriage capacity –
  • For passenger vehicle – whether it is 2-seater, 3-seater, 4-seater, 7-seater, 9-seater, 10/11-seater, etc.
  • For commercial vehicle - whether it is ½ tonne, 15cwt, 1 tonne, 5 tonnes, 12 tonnes, 40 tonnes, etc.

3. Generally, it is the manufacturer's name such as Ford, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Toyota, Tata, etc.

4. Model – Besides, there is a model name also. Generally, the manufacturer's name is to a specific range of vehicles such as Outback, Camry, Civic, GLE, X1, etc.

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