The quest for a vehicle which could revolutionize traveling, began as far back as the 1300s. The Italian Guido Da Vigevano, designed the first wind driven vehicle in 1335. The famous Italian artist Leonardo Da Vinci, designed a clockwork tricycle. However, these attempts were limited to paper and never actually materialized.
The first recorded steam powered mobile vehicle was built by Father Ferdinand Verbiest for the Chinese Emperor Chien Lung around 1678. Thomas Newcomen and Thomas Savery made a small but crucial development, when they got a steam engine to power a vehicle.
Nicholas Joseph Cugnot designed the first self-powered vehicle in the history of mankind. It was a steam driven gun carriage, which moved at a mere 2 mph and ran only for 15 minutes at a time. This small yet significant event in 1769, marked the beginning of real pursuit for the ultimate machine.
The earliest attempts to make a vehicle, which could carry freight and passengers without the railroads, was made in England in the 1830s. Until then, vehicles without rails were an elusive dream. But the British didn't manage it effectively and the need for a fuel to drive engines was felt tremendously.
The next attempt was made by Oliver Evans, to get a high pressure steam engine rolling, but it couldn't gain mass acceptance. He modified it to move clumsily over land and also paddle over a river, thus designing an 'amphibious car'. Francois Rivaz built the first known internal combustion design in 1806, that ran on oxygen and hydrogen, but he failed to translate this success into a moving entity.
The important fact to note is that, although these efforts may appear to be very trivial, the foundation of the modern automobile was laid on these attempts. If it were not for these trials, automobiles wouldn't have sustained, as we see them today.
Karl Benz, a German mind, was credited to be the father of the modern automobile, although, many contemporary German engineers like Gottieb Daimler and William Maybach were making headway in the same field. Benz designed his four stroke gasoline engine in Mannheim, Germany and obtained a patent for it in 1885.
The first 'car', if we could call it, called 'Motorwagen', was designed and first commercially sold by him. By 1896, Benz was the largest automobile company in the world, with a production of 572 units in 1899. Daimler and Maybach founded the Daimler Motor Company in 1890 and sold horse drawn stage coaches initially. Later, they sold their own commercial designs by 1895. After Daimler's death in 1900, Maybach launched a new brand called Daimler Mercedes which became popular as Mercedes.
United States also has its share of fame in the invention. The first design in America was created by George Selden in 1877, who got a patent for a two-stroke engine in 1895. However, his vehicle never got sold, as the production didn't kick-off and his patent was revoked by the efforts of competitors, including Henry Ford. The large-scale production line of a vehicle was worked and expanded on, by Henry Ford, the pioneer of this industry in the United States.
From 1914 onwards, a new management revolution swept the industry. Ford introduced a novel streamlining of production, which greatly reduced the time taken for the manufacturing. For example, he ensured that every worker was assigned a task limited to a particular area, which reduced the clutter and introduced a smooth flow of processes. Along with the electrical engineering contributions of scientists like Thomas Edison, vehicle manufacturers soon started large-scale selling of highly equipped and modernized vehicles.
The Ford Motor Company expanded beyond America, as it took over the European market by storm. Citroen in France, was the first manufacturer to adopt Ford's process of mass production. The 1920s saw rapid mass production, which went on until the Great Depression struck around 1939. In 1940, only 17 car manufacturers survived in America. In Europe, Morris Motor Company, Citroen in France, and Opel in Germany, established themselves as the dominant market forces to rule this sector.
As of today Toyota, Daimler AG, Volkswagen, Ford, Tata Motors, Nissan, General Motors, and many more organizations are contributing for the growth of this industry.