from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Benz Patent Motor Car number 1 from 1886, the first "modern automobile"
Ford Model T , the first assembly-line automobile , but not the first mass-produced car
Automobile mass motorization: VW Beetle , from 1972 to 2002 the most popular automobile in the world
The most common passenger car in the GDR , the Trabant 601
A German sports car legend, the Porsche 911

An automobile , or car for short (also known as a motor vehicle , in Switzerland officially a motor vehicle ) is a multi-lane motor vehicle (i.e. a road vehicle driven by an engine ) that is used to transport people ( passenger car "car" and bus ) or freight ( lorry "truck") ) serves. Colloquially - and also in this article - the term car is usually used to describe vehicles whose design is primarily intended for passenger transport and which can be driven on public roads with an automobile driver's license .

The global vehicle population is increasing continuously and in 2010 was over 1.015 billion automobiles. In 2011 over 80 million automobiles were built worldwide. In 2012, around 51.7 million motor vehicles were registered in Germany, almost 43 million of which are passenger vehicles.

Word origin

Automobile ("self-mover") is a substantiated adjective. It originated at the end of the 19th century from the French term for a tram operated with compressed air : voiture automobile , “self-moving car” . The term is derived from the Greek αὐτός autós , German 'self' , and the Latin mobilis 'mobile' , and was used to distinguish it from the usual land vehicles that were then pulled by horses.

The definition of “self-propelled vehicle” would also include motorized two-wheelers and rail vehicles . As a rule, however, an automobile is understood to be a multi-lane and non-rail-bound motor vehicle, i.e. a car, bus or truck. In everyday language, mostly only the car is meant. The Darmstadt lecturer for motor vehicles, Freiherr Löw von und zu Steinfurth, tried in his standard work Das Automobil - its construction and operation across all editions from 1909 onwards to the most exact definitions of "automobile" possible. In the 5th edition from 1924 he writes:

“The automobile is a vehicle that

  1. is moved by machine power,
  2. carries the energy source that is used to move it,
  3. common road dams used, and
  4. picks up the people or goods to be transported - at least in part - himself. "
- Ludwig Löw von und zu Steinfurth : The automobile - its construction and its operation, 5th edition from 1924

In order to shed light on this strict classification, for example, he leaves out requirement 2 and thus comes "to the so-called trackless railways, which consist of electric cars to which the energy is supplied by an overhead line."

In English is a automobile or car only one car described. There is no translation in the sense of von und zu Steinfurth in English; The word motor vehicle , which is often mentioned in this context , also includes motorcycles and is therefore to be equated with the German “motor vehicle”.


Frenchman Nicholas Cugnot built a steam car in 1769 - the first documented and actually built vehicle that was not based on muscle or any other external force (such as wind) (and was not a toy). In 1863, Étienne Lenoir made a 18 km journey with his " Hippomobile "; it was the first vehicle with an internal combustion engine. However, the year 1886 with the motor tricycle " Benz Patent Motorwagen Number 1 " by the German inventor Carl Benz is considered the year of birth of the modern automobile with internal combustion engine , as it attracted a great deal of media attention and led to series production. Previously, other inventors also built motorized vehicles with similar or completely different engine concepts.

Motorized wagons replaced carts pulled by draft animals in almost all areas , as they can travel significantly faster and further and provide a higher level of performance . This advantage has increased the distance covered since the automobile was born, among other things. a. therefore more and more space was given to motorized road traffic.

Structure and shape

The main components of the automobile include the chassis with chassis and other parts, as well as the body , engine , transmission and interior . European cars are made of over 54 percent steel , half of which are high-strength steel grades . Engineers and designers have to bring the technology of the vehicles into a functional, ergonomic and aesthetic form that conveys the brand values ​​of the manufacturer and arouses emotions. When buying a car, the vehicle design is one of the most important decision criteria today.


According to WHO figures , 1.25 million people die every year as a direct result of traffic accidents .

The safety of vehicle occupants and potential other parties involved in an accident depends, among other things, on organizational and structural measures as well as the personal behavior of road users. The organizational measures include, for example, traffic control (road traffic regulations with traffic signs or something more modern with traffic control systems), legal regulations ( seat belts , telephone ban), traffic monitoring and road construction measures.

The structural safety devices of modern automobiles can basically be divided into two different areas. Passive safety devices are intended to mitigate the consequences of an accident. These include the seatbelt , the safety headrest , the belt tensioner , the airbags , the roll bar , deformable steering wheels with releasable steering columns, the crumple zone , the side impact protection and design measures for accident opponents protection. Active safety devices are intended to prevent an accident or reduce its severity. Examples of this are the anti-lock braking system (ABS) and the electronic stability program (ESP) .

Personal measures include behaviors such as a defensive driving style, compliance with traffic regulations or training in vehicle control, for example in driver safety training . These, as well as the traffic education especially for children, help to reduce the personal accident risk.

All measures to increase road safety together can help reduce the number of people killed in a road accident. In most industrialized nations, the number of victims has been falling for years. In Europe, traffic accidents play a smaller role as a cause of death today than they did a few decades ago, and the number of fatalities is below the number of drug deaths or suicides . In Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland, for example, the number of victims has fallen to a third since the 1970s, despite hardly any decline in the number of traffic accidents . In 2011, the number of road deaths rose in Germany for the first time in 20 years, but in Austria and Switzerland it was at its historically lowest level.

After a long voluntary campaign, driving with the lights on during the day was made mandatory in Austria on November 15, 2005, and in 2007 it was also punished. On January 1, 2008, however, the obligation to light was abolished again. The aim of this campaign was to focus human sensory impressions on the sources of danger and thus reduce the number of road deaths. According to estimates by the Federal Ministry, 15 fewer road deaths were expected each year. However, the expected effect was not found, since more and more attention was drawn away from unlit sources of danger (obstacles or other road users, e.g. pedestrians) to the moving and illuminated vehicles. In Norway , too, significantly more road deaths were counted in the years after the introduction of compulsory lights in 1985 than in the years before. Nevertheless, in some countries (such as Germany) the introduction of such a measure is still being considered.

Autonomous driving

Both automobile manufacturers and suppliers as well as companies from the IT sector (especially Google and Uber ) research and develop self-driving vehicles (mostly cars). “Robot cars are more sensitive and safer drivers than you and I” ( Chris Urmson, Google's project manager and Carnegie Mellon professor : Tailwind for autonomous cars ). Experience from American car insurance companies would suggest that the displays of the assistance sensors can reduce the risk of accidents. It is also believed that a certain amount of uncertainty will not prevent the success of autonomous automobiles.

The “ Vienna Convention on Road Traffic ” of 1968 banned autonomous automobiles for a long time, but was changed by the UN in mid-May 2014 so that “systems with which a car drives autonomously are permitted if they are stopped at any time by the driver Before that, it stipulated, among other things, that every vehicle in motion must have a driver and that driver must also be able to control the vehicle. In particular, questions regarding liability law in the event of accidents when technical assistance systems take over the driving must be clarified. In California, which was previously inclined to progress and had liberal regulations for autonomous automobiles for a long time, the legal situation was tightened in 2014 - now there must always be someone behind the wheel who can “intervene at any time”. According to a study by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, it is expected that at least the automation of some driving functions will be technically feasible by 2020 at the latest, while driverless vehicles on public roads will not be expected until much later.

Vehicles without a steering wheel, brake or accelerator are also being tested. In this context, traffic concepts such as extended car sharing are discussed: You book the car via the Internet and get on if necessary. None of the occupants need a driving license.


Vehicle owner costs

The total cost of ownership of a car is made up of fixed costs (also called "maintenance costs") and variable costs (also called "operating costs"), plus the depreciation of the car. Many people underestimate the cost.

Fixed costs

The fixed costs are incurred regardless of the annual mileage. They essentially consist of the motor vehicle tax , the compulsory motor vehicle liability insurance , a compulsory toll in many countries as well as sporadically prescribed technical tests .

In addition, voluntary additional insurance can be taken out, such as comprehensive insurance as well as other insurance or additional insurance-like services that the automobile clubs offer with membership.

operating cost

The operating costs largely depend on the annual mileage. There are expenses for energy consumption (in the case of internal combustion engines, this is fuel consumption ), the replacement of wear parts (especially car tires ), as well as for further maintenance and, if necessary, unscheduled repairs. Maintenance is required depending on the time and kilometers. Typical time intervals are 1 to 2 years, typical kilometer intervals between 10,000 km and 30,000 km. If the maintenance intervals are not adhered to, this can lead to difficulties with warranty claims in the event of defects. Depending on individual requirements, there are costs for vehicle cleaning.

Parking and toll fees are not directly dependent on the kilometer.

acquisition cost

The purchase price is reduced immediately as a loss in value to the respective, time-dependent market value , while a similar loss occurs with leasing through interest payments.

Sample values

The Federal Statistical Office and ADAC publish a quarterly car cost index. This indicates the percentage by which various cost components have become more expensive or cheaper.

The ADAC publishes a full calculation for new cars, divided into 6 classes (status: 04/2018):

  • Small car: Citroen C1 VTi 72 starting: 321 € / month
  • Small car: Dacia Sandero SCe 75 Essential: € 318 / month
  • Lower middle class: Dacia Logan MCV Sce 75 Access: 323 € / month
  • Middle class: Skoda Octavia 1.2 TSI Active: € 502 / month
  • Upper middle class: Skoda Superb Combi 1.6 TDI Active: € 614 / month
  • Upper class: Porsche 911 Carrera Coupé: 1357 € / month

The cheapest model in each class is listed.

Costs borne by the general public

Car traffic brings with it external costs , especially in the area of environmental pollution and accident costs . Many of the variables considered can hardly be quantified or can only be quantified very roughly, which is why different publications on the topic name different external costs.

According to the Federal Environment Agency, the external costs of road traffic in Germany totaled 76.946 billion euros in 2005, of which 61.2 billion were attributable to passenger and 15.8 billion to freight traffic. The accident costs accounted for 52% (equivalent to 41.7 billion euros) of the external costs. The Federal Environment Agency calculated in 2007 that cars in Germany cause an average of around 3 cents per kilometer in environmental and health costs, which are mainly caused by air pollution. This results in costs of 3,000 euros for a car with 100,000 kilometers. For trucks, these costs are even 17 cents per kilometer. These external costs are not or only partially borne by road traffic. a. financed by taxes as well as health insurance and social security contributions. The Federal Environment Agency estimates the cost shortfall in road traffic (i.e. all costs directly and indirectly caused by road traffic minus all taxes and duties paid in connection with road traffic) at around 60 billion euros for 2005.

In 2000, Austrian car traffic bore only part of the costs it caused: a large part of the costs for the construction and maintenance of roads as well as secondary costs such as accident and environmental costs (noise, air pollutants) for all road users are borne by the general public . While car traffic accounted for 38% of the costs it caused, buses accounted for 10% of their own costs and trucks for 21%.

Effects of automobilization


The car traffic is subject of research in economics, namely the Transport Economics . The automobile as an industrial mass product has changed the everyday life of mankind. Since the beginning of the 20th century there have been more than 2,500 companies producing automobiles. Many companies that produced iron goods or steel in the 19th century started making weapons or bicycles in the middle of the century , thus developing the knowledge that was needed in automobile construction decades later.

Today, in addition to the large manufacturers, there are many small companies that produce mostly exclusive vehicles as car manufacturers , for example Morgan ( GB ).


Passenger cars in Germany 1975-2005
Passenger cars in Switzerland 1910–2000

The importance of the automobile is based not only on the comparatively high physical performance of the system but also on the high degree of freedom of use in terms of transport tasks and the development of spatial or geographical areas. Until the 19th century there were only a few means of transport , for example the carriage or horse . The spread of the railway increased the speed of travel, but one was bound to timetables and certain stops. From the end of the 19th century, the bicycle was the first mass-market individual means of transport available, but it was only the automobile that enabled individual motorized locomotion as well as the flexible and fast transport of larger loads. In the 1960s there was a real euphoria, from which a prevailing opinion arose that the entire living space had to be subordinated to mobility (“car- friendly city ”). However, some such projects were stopped as early as the 1970s. Emissions from traffic are still increasing in 2011 and, in contrast to fuels, the agreed climate protection targets for fuels (in Switzerland) cannot be met.

As of January 1, 2004, 49,648,043 automobiles were registered in Germany. Compared with pedestrians and bicycles, but also with buses and trains , the car takes up more space. In metropolitan areas in particular, this creates problems with traffic jams and the need for public space, which dissolves some of the advantages of the automobile.

The freight traffic on the road is a fundamental part of today's economy. The flexibility of commercial vehicles enables perishable goods to be brought directly to retailers or end consumers. Mobile construction machines take over a large part of the construction work today. The just-in-time production allows for faster construction process. Concrete is mixed in concrete works and then brought to the construction site with truck mixers , mobile concrete pumps save scaffolding or crane construction.

Environment and health

Scrapped cars

The massive operation of internal combustion engines in cars leads to environmental problems , on the one hand locally through pollutant emissions , which can often be avoided depending on the state of the art, and on the other hand globally through the system-related CO 2 emissions that contribute to global warming .

The air pollution from the exhaust gases of the combustion engines, especially in metropolitan areas, often takes on health-damaging proportions ( smog , fine dust ). Engine fuels contain toxic substances such as xylene , toluene , benzene and aldehydes . Even more toxic lead additives are no longer common, at least in Europe and the USA.

In Germany alone, 11,000 people die each year as a result of air pollution from road traffic; Deaths that could potentially be avoided. That number is 3.5 times the death toll from accidents.

Road noise, mainly caused by automobiles, is also harmful to health. In addition, driving a car, especially over long periods of time, can sometimes be associated with a lack of exercise .

So far, little is known about the consequences of massive tire wear . A large part of it is washed into the surface waters with the rain .

The consumption of mineral oil , a fossil fuel to operate conventional automobiles, generates CO 2 emissions and thus contributes to the greenhouse effect .

According to plans by the EU Commission , cars with internal combustion engine drives are to be banned completely from inner cities in Europe by 2050.

In 1928/1929 Engelbert Zaschka presented the first folding car in Berlin. This city car concept had the goal of being inexpensive and space-saving.

The land consumption for vehicles and traffic routes reduces the living space for people, animals and plants. The problem of space and parking spaces in the metropolitan areas was already apparent in the 1920s, and as early as 1929, the German engineer and inventor Engelbert Zaschka pursued the approach of the collapsible Zaschka three-wheeler (folding car) in Berlin . This city car concept had the goal of being inexpensive and space-saving by allowing the vehicle to be folded up after use.

The manufacture of automobiles also consumes considerable amounts of raw materials, water and energy. Greenpeace assumes a water consumption of 20,000 l for a mid-range car. In 1998 the magazine Der Spiegel calculated as much as 226,000 liters of water for the production of an upper middle class car (e.g. Mercedes E-Class ). The water industry sees a positive 380,000 l for a vehicle as necessary. The automobile is currently (2013) 85 percent recycled and 95 percent reused. The recycling rate for metallic components is 97 percent.

The Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD) publishes an overview of the environmental friendliness of current car models every year in the car environmental list .

For the dangers of motor vehicle traffic and the costs caused by its environmental impact, see the chapter on safety and external costs .

Social impact

The widespread use of the car is intended to change social spaces - u. a. the following effects were complained about in Switzerland:

  • Children are less and less able to play unsupervised on the street;
  • Leisure places are further away than before;
  • consequently less spontaneous physical activity, as well as, for example, halving the use of bicycles among young Swiss people within 20 years.

All child development is influenced.

Passenger Car Consumption Labeling Ordinance

Since December 1, 2011, new cars in Germany have to be provided with an energy consumption label. The classes range from A + to G. Consumption is based on the vehicle weight, which means that comparisons can only be made within one weight class. The fact that a lighter trolley with the same rating requires less energy for a transport than a heavier trolley cannot be recognized from the label .

Interest groups in Germany

In Germany, a number of associations have emerged that initially organized mutual services for motorists, especially breakdown assistance. Today they are also increasingly working as lobby associations and representing the interests of drivers and the automotive industry vis-à-vis politics, industry and the media.

The Automobilclub von Deutschland (AvD) was founded as early as 1899 and one year later it organized the first international automobile exhibition. In 1911 the General German Automobile Club , the ADAC, emerged from the German Motorcyclists Association founded in 1903 . Today it is Europe's largest club with 15 million members. Other associations in Germany are the Auto Club Europa (ACE), which was founded by trade unions in 1965, and the ecologically oriented Verkehrsclub Deutschland (VCD) since 1986 , which also represents the interests of other road users (cyclists, pedestrians, public transport users) .

The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) represents the interests of automobile manufacturers and their suppliers .

Research institutions on the subject of automobiles

  • Research Institute for Automotive and Vehicle Engines Stuttgart ( FKFS )
  • Institute for Automotive Engineering Aachen ( ika ) of the RWTH Aachen

Statistical economic data on automobile production

New developments

The new developments include alternative drives such as the electric car ( electric vehicle ). Another development is autonomous driving ( autonomous land vehicle ). By car sharing a car from private property goes into a jointly owned. In addition, prototypes of flying cars are being developed experimentally .

See also

Portal: Cars and Motorcycles  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of cars and motorcycles


  • Weert Canzler, Gert Schmidt (Hrsg.): Futures of the automobile. Prospects and limits of automotive globalization. Edition Sigma, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-89404-250-9 .
  • Weert Canzler: The Sorcerer's Apprentice Syndrome: Development and Stability of the Automobile Model. Edition Sigma, 1996, ISBN 3-89404-162-5 .
  • Hannes Krall: The Automobile or The Revenge of the Little Man: Hidden Meanings of the International Golf GTI Meeting. DRAVA publishing and printing company, 1991, ISBN 3-85435-138-0 .
  • Wolfgang Sachs : The love of the automobile: A look back at the history of our desires. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1984, ISBN 3-498-06166-6 .
  • Daniela Zenone: The Automobile in Italian Futurism and Fascism: Its Aesthetic and Political Significance. WZB, research focus technology, work, environment, Berlin 2002.
  • Arnd Joachim Garth: The Dialogomobile: Marketing and advertising around the automobile. Berlin, Verlag Werbweb-Berlin, 2001, ISBN 3-00-006358-7 .
  • Peter M. Bode, Sylvia Hamberger, Wolfgang Zängl: The car nightmare: A hundred-year-old invention and its consequences. Raben Verlag von Wittern, 1986.
  • Hermann Knoflacher : Virus car. The story of a destruction. Ueberreuter Verlag, Vienna 2009, ISBN 978-3-8000-7438-9 .
  • Herlyn: PPS in the automotive industry - production program planning and control of vehicles and assemblies . Hanser Verlag, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-446-41370-2 .

Web links

Commons : Automobile  album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Automobile  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Automotive  Sources and Full Texts

Individual evidence

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  2. C. Viewer: Lightweight construction for mass production, in: Automobil Produktion 1–2 / 2013
  3. Wolf-Heinrich Hugo: Design and Aerodynamics - Interplay between Art and Physics, in: Ralf Kieselbach (ed.): The drive to design, history, training and perspectives in car design, Stuttgart 1998, p. 188
  4. Lutz Fügener: The end of retro design., January 6, 2019, accessed on January 6, 2019 .
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  9. ↑ The car of the future needs its own rules ., May 6, 2014, accessed on May 22, 2014
    “In August 2013, a Mercedes S-Class drives independently from Mannheim to Pforzheim for the first time. […] The vehicle is overwhelmed only once. 'When an elderly woman tried to wave the car through at the pedestrian crossing, he stopped anyway, that was not planned,' says Daimler Development Director Thomas Weber […] ”
  10. Rumors about Google's robo-taxi .; "In the past few months, the Internet group had discussions with contract manufacturers about building cars according to Google specifications," reported technology journalist Amir Efrati. "
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  24. ↑ Knowing external costs - better protecting the environment. (PDF) Press release 024/2007 at:
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  39. Traffic limits the choice of transport . In Migros Magazine , August 5, 2013, p. 18
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