An automobile, autocar, motor car or car is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers, which also carries its own engine or motor. Most definitions of the term specify that automobiles are designed to run primarily on roads, to have seating for one to eight people, to typically have four wheels, and to be constructed principally for the transport of people rather than goods.
The term motorcar has also been used in the context of electrified rail systems to denote a car which functions as a small locomotive but also provides space for passengers and baggage. These locomotive cars were often used on suburban routes by both interurban and intercity railroad systems.
There are approximately 600 million passenger cars worldwide (roughly one car per eleven people). Around the world, there were about 806 million cars and light trucks on the road in 2007; they burn over a billion cubic meters (260 billion US gallons) of petrol/gasoline and diesel fuel yearly. The numbers are increasing rapidly, especially in China and India.
The word automobile comes, via the French automobile, from the Ancient Greek word αὐτός (autós, "self") and the Latin mobilis ("movable"); meaning a vehicle that moves itself, rather than being pulled or pushed by a separate animal or another vehicle. The alternative name car is believed to originate from the Latin word carrus or carrum ("wheeled vehicle"), or the Middle English word carre ("cart") (from Old North French), or from the Gaulish word karros (a Gallic Chariot)
The first working steam-powered vehicle was probably designed by Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish member of a Jesuit mission in China around 1672. It was a 65 cm-long scale-model toy for the Chinese Emperor, that was unable to carry a driver or a passenger. It is not known if Verbiest's model was ever built.
In 1752, Leonty Shamshurenkov, a Russian peasant, constructed a human-pedalled four-wheeled "auto-running" carriage, and subsequently proposed to equip it with odometer and to use the same principle for making a self-propelling sledge.
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is widely credited with building the first self-propelled mechanical vehicle or automobile in about 1769; he created a steam-powered tricycle. He also constructed two steam tractors for the French Army, one of which is preserved in the French National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts. His inventions were however handicapped by problems with water supply and maintaining steam pressure. In 1801, Richard Trevithick built and demonstrated his Puffing Devil road locomotive, believed by many to be the first demonstration of a steam-powered road vehicle. It was unable to maintain sufficient steam pressure for long periods, and was of little practical use.