Stripped to the basics a vehicle is just a device that moves by converting stored energy into mechanical energy. In the early days of the automobile it wasn’t clear what the stored energy would be and how it would be converted. Experimenters worked with steam engines, a wide variety of two and four cycle internal combustion engines, compressed air and electric motors. There were engineering and usage hints from horse drawn wagons and carriages as well as the bicycle, but infrastructure ranged from poor to nonexistent. There was something of a race to see what would be good enough to begin to define and infrastructure and it was up to the users to invent and evolve usage patterns.
By 1900 three of the main contenders were the internal combustion engine, the steam engine and the electric motor. All were expensive and limited, but new designs were changing and improving rapidly. By 1910 the gasoline engine had matured to the point where it was more efficient, cheaper to manufacture and less temperamental than the steam engine. The electric car had seen considerable use in large cities where its short range wasn’t a big issue, but it faded as trip lengths increased, electric starters appeared on gasoline powered cars making them easier to use and the price of gasoline cars dropped.
By the time the Ford Model T arrived it was clear the future was going to be a gasoline fueled internal combustion engine. The innovation that came with the Model T was a dramatic price reduction made possible by standardization and a soup to nuts scale assembly line. Suddenly cars were available to the middle class and the supporting infrastructure from oil refineries to better roads grew sprouted up. So many people had mobility that the distances between where we lived, worked, shopped and played adjusted to fit the hour or so a day we were willing to devote to travel.