PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 December, 2009, 12:00am

Self-moving vehicle

An automobile means a motor vehicle with four wheels. It is a French word. But actually it comes from the ancient Greek word autos - 'self' - and the Latin word mobilis - 'movable'. Automobiles, or cars, are very common today. But they have not been around for long. The earliest automobiles were powered by steam. In 1672, a Jesuit missionary in China built a steam-powered vehicle for the emperor. It could carry only one person, and probably not go very far. Cars took over the world after two things happened - the invention of an engine and the development of petrol.


Karl Benz (1844-1929) was born in what is now Germany. As a boy, he cycled to school. He dreamed of making a machine that could carry people around without using horses. In his 30s, he developed most of the parts we now use in modern car engines.

The next step was developing a vehicle for his motor. He finally came up with one in 1885. He called it the Benz Motorwagen - a three-wheeler with a 'sofa' and a steering wheel. It was hard to control and it crashed into a wall in its first public demonstration.

But Benz's invention led to the founding of one of the world's most famous car companies - Mercedes-Benz.

Mass production

By the early 1900s, sales of Karl Benz's invention had reached about 3,000 a year. But it was Henry Ford who made the car truly global. Ford (1863-1947) was an engineer and he spent all his spare time trying to improve the petrol engine. He made his first car in 1896. It looked like Benz's car, except it had four wheels.

In 1903, Ford built a car that went 147km/h. His Model T, built in 1908, was the first car that looked like the modern automobile. It was a family car with front and back seats, and the engine was under the hood. Ford was able to make his Model Ts quickly and at a reasonable price using an assembly line. By 1915, about 500,000 Model Ts were being sold each year.

Classic cars

Automobiles really took off in the 1930s. There were many new designs at the time. The Volkswagen Beetle was very famous. Volkswagen means 'the people's car' in German. It was first made under Adolf Hitler's government in 1938.

Other classic cars were the Rolls Royce Phantom series and Ford's V8. These cars are usually called saloons or sedans. They have enclosed front and back seats, and two or four doors. They also have a space at the back for storage - a boot.

now do this

1 Automobile is a ... word.

a. Spanish

b. French

c. Latin

2 The first popular, mass-produced car was ...

a. the Benz Motorwagen

b. the Volkswagen Beetle

c. the Ford Model T

3 The German word Volkswagen means ...

a. the people's car

b. horseless carriage

c. self-movable


November 30

1. a, 2. c, 3. b