Vehicles that can be considered automobiles were demonstrated as early as 1769, although that date is disputed, and 1885 marked the introduction of gasoline powered internal combustion engines. Automotive history is generally divided into a number of eras based on the major design and technology shifts. Although the exact boundaries of each era can be hazy, scholarship has defined them as follows:
Steam-powered self-propelled vehicles were devised in the late 17th century. A Flemish priest, Ferdinand Verbiest, was thought to have demonstrated in 1678 a small (24 in (61 cm) long) steam 'car' to the Chinese emperor, yet there is no evidence for it. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot demonstrated his fardier à vapeur, an experimental steam-driven artillery tractor, in 1770 and 1771. Cugnot's design proved to be impractical and his invention was not developed in his native France, the centre of innovation passing to Great Britain. By 1784 William Murdoch had built a working model of a steam carriage in Redruth, and in 1801 Richard Trevithick was running a full-sized vehicle on the road in Camborne. Such vehicles were in vogue for a time, and over the next decades such innovations as hand brakes, multi-speed transmissions, improved speed, and steering were developed. Some were commercially successful in providing mass transit, until a backlash against these large speedy vehicles resulted in passing a law, the Locomotive Act, in 1865 requiring self-propelled vehicles on public roads in the United Kingdom be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn. This effectively killed road auto development in the UK for most of the rest of the 19th Century, as inventors and engineers shifted their efforts to improvements in railway locomotives. The law was not finally repealed until 1896 although the need for the red flag was removed in 1878.
The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789. In 1805, Evans demonstrated his first successful self-propelled vehicle, which not only was the first automobile in the USA but was also the first amphibious vehicle, as his steam-powered vehicle was able to travel on wheels on land and via a paddle wheel in the water.
There were also European efforts. In 1815, a professor at Prague Polytechnich, Josef Bozek, built an oil-fired steam car. Walter Hancock, builder and operator of London steam buses, in 1838 built a four-seat steam phaeton. Also in 1838, Scotsman Robert Davidson built an electric locomotive that attained a speed of 4 mph (6 km/h). In England, a patent was granted in 1840 for the use of rails as conductors of electric current, and similar American patents were issued to Lilley and Colten in 1847. Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is uncertain), Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the first crude electric carriage, powered by non-rechargeable primary cells.
Belgian-born Etienne Lenoir made a car with an internal combustion engine around 1860, though it was driven by coal-gas. His experiment lasted for 7 miles (11 km), and took him 90 minutes each way. Lenoir never tried experimenting with cars again. The French claim a Deboutteville-Delamare was successful, and celebrated the 100th birthday of the car in 1984.
About 1870, in Vienna, capital of Austria (then the Austro-Hungarian Empire), inventor Siegfried Marcus put a liquid-fuelled internal combustion engine on a simple handcart which made him the first man propelling a vehicle by means of gasoline. Today, this car is known as “The first Marcus Car”.
In 1883, Marcus got a German patent for a low voltage ignition of the magneto type; this was his only automotive patent. This design was used for all further engines, and the four-seat “Second Marcus Car” of 1888/89. This ignition in conjunction with the “rotating brush carburretor” made the “Second Car”'s design very innovative.
It is generally acknowledged the first automobiles with gasoline powered internal combustion engines were completed almost simultaneously by several German inventors working independently: Karl Benz built his first automobile in 1885 in Mannheim. Benz was granted a patent for his automobile on January 29, 1886 and began the first production of automobiles in 1888. Soon after, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart in 1889 designed a vehicle from scratch to be an automobile rather than a horse carriage fitted with an engine. They also are usually credited as inventors of the first motor bike in 1886. Yet Italy's Enrico Bernardi, of the University of Padua, in 1882 patented a 0.024 hp (18W) 122 cc (7.4 in3) one-cylinder petrol motor, fitting it into his son's tricycle, making it at least a candidate for the first automobile, and first motorcycle; Bernardi enlarged the tricycle in 1892 to carry two adults. One of the first four wheel petrol-driven automobiles built in Britain came in Birmingham in 1895 by Frederick William Lanchester who also patented the disc brake. And, contrary to popular belief, the first electric starter was by Arnold (copy of the Benz Velo) before 1900.
For all the turmoil, many early pioneers were forgotten. In 1891, John William Lambert built a three-wheeler in Ohio City, Ohio, which was destroyed in a fire the same year, while Henry Nadig constructed a four-wheeler in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It is likely they were not the only ones.
The first production of automobiles was by Karl Benz in 1888 in Germany and under licence to Benz, in France by Emile Roger. There were numerous others, including tricycle builders Rudolf Egg, Edward Butler, and Léon Bollée; Bollée, using a 650 cc (40 in3) engine of his own design, enabled his driver, Jamin, to average 45 km/h (28.2 mph) in the 1897 Paris-Tourville rally. By 1900 mass production of automobiles had begun in France and the United States. The first company to form exclusively to build automobiles was Panhard et Levassor in France, which also introduced the first four-cylinder engine. Formed in 1889, Panhard was quickly followed by Peugeot two years later. In the United States, brothers Charles and Frank Duryea founded the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1893, becoming the first American automobile manufacturing company. However, it was Ransom E. Olds, and his Olds Motor Vehicle Company (later known as Oldsmobile). who would dominate this era of automobile production. Its large scale production line was running in 1902. Within a year, Cadillac (formed from the Henry Ford Company), Winton, and Ford were producing cars in the thousands.
Within a few years, a dizzying assortment of technologies were being produced by hundreds of producers all over the Western world. Steam, electricity, and gasoline-powered autos competed for decades, with gasoline internal combustion engines achieving dominance in the 1910s. Dual- and even quad-engine cars were designed, and engine displacement ranged to more than a dozen liters. Many modern advances, including gas/electric hybrids, multi-valve engines, overhead camshafts, and four-wheel drive, were attempted and discarded at this time.
By 1900, it was possible to talk about a national automotive industry in many countries, including Belgium (home to Vincke, which copied Benz; Germain, a pseudo-Panhard; or Linon and Nagant, both based on the Gobron-Brillié), Switzerland (led by Fritz Henriod, Rudolf Egg, Saurer, Johann Weber, and Lorenz Popp), Vagnfabrik AB in Sweden, Hammel (by A. F. Hammel and H. U. Johansen at Copenhagen, in Denmark, beginning around 1886), Irgens (starting in Bergen, Norway, in 1883, but without success), Italy (where FIAT started in 1899), and as far afield as Australia (where Pioneer set up shop in 1898 (with an already archaic paraffin-fuelled center pivot-steered wagon). Meanwhile, the export trade had begun to be global, already, also, with Koch exporting cars and trucks from Paris to Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, and the Dutch East Indies. 
Innovation was rapid and rampant, with no clear standards for basic vehicle architectures, body styles, construction materials, or controls. Many veteran cars use a tiller rather than a wheel for steering, for example, and most operated at a single speed. Chain drive was dominant over the modern driveshaft, and closed bodies were extremely rare.
On November 5, 1895, George B. Selden was granted a United States patent for a two-stroke automobile engine (U.S. Patent 549,160 ). This patent did more to hinder than encourage development of autos in the USA. Selden licensed his patent to most major American auto makers, collecting a fee on every car they produced.
Throughout the veteran car era, however, automobiles were seen as more of a novelty than a genuinely useful device. Breakdowns were frequent, fuel was difficult to obtain, roads suitable for travelling were scarce, and rapid innovation meant that a year-old car was nearly worthless. Major breakthroughs in proving the usefulness of the automobile came with the historic long-distance drive of Bertha Benz in 1888 when she traveled more than fifty miles (80 km) from Mannheim to Pforzheim to make people aware of the potential of the vehicles her husband, Karl Benz, manufactured, and after Horatio Nelson Jackson's successful trans-continental drive across the United States in 1903.
Brass or Edwardian era
Named for the widespread use of brass in the United States, the Brass or Edwardian era lasted from roughly 1905 through to the beginning of World War I in 1914. 1905 was a signal year in the development of the automobile, marking the point when the majority of sales shifted from the hobbyist and enthusiast to the average user.
Within the 15 years that make up the Brass or Edwardian era, the various experimental designs and alternate power systems would be marginalized. Although the modern touring car had been invented earlier, it was not until Panhard et Levassor's Système Panhard was widely licensed and adopted were recognizable and standardized automobiles created. This system specified front-engined, rear-wheel drive internal combustion cars with a sliding gear transmission. Traditional coach-style vehicles were rapidly abandoned, and buckboard runabouts lost favor with the introduction of tonneaus and other less-expensive touring bodies.
Throughout this era, development of automotive technology was rapid, due in part to a huge number (hundreds) of small manufacturers all competing to gain the world's attention. Key developments included electric ignition (by Robert Bosch, 1903), independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes (by the Arrol-Johnston Company of Scotland in 1909). Leaf springs were widely used for suspension, though many other systems were still in use, with angle steel taking over from armored wood as the frame material of choice. Transmissions and throttle controls were widely adopted, allowing a variety of cruising speeds, though vehicles generally still had discrete speed settings rather than the infinitely variable system familiar in cars of later eras.
Between 1907 and 1912, the high-wheel motor buggy (resembling the horse buggy of before 1900) was in its heyday, with over seventy-five makers including Holsman (Chicago), IHC (Chicago), and Sears (which sold via catalog); the high-wheeler would be killed by the Model T.
Some examples of cars of the period included the following:
1908–1927 Ford Model T - The most widely produced and available car of the era. It used a planetary transmission and had a pedal-based control system.
1910 Mercer Raceabout - Regarded as one of the first sports cars, the Raceabout expressed the exuberance of the driving public, as did the similarly-conceived American Underslung and Hispano-Suiza Alphonso
1910–1920 Bugatti Type 13 - A notable racing and touring model with advanced engineering and design. Similar models were the Types 15, 17, 22, and 23.
The vintage era lasted from the end of World War I (1919) through the stock market crash at the end of 1929. During this period, the front-engined car came to dominate, with closed bodies and standardized controls becoming the norm. In 1919, 90% of cars sold were open; by 1929, 90% were closed. Development of the internal combustion engine continued at a rapid pace, with multi-valve and overhead cam engines produced at the high end, and V8, V12, and even V16 engines conceived for the ultra-rich.
Exemplary vintage vehicles:
1922–1939 Austin 7 — The Austin Seven was one of the most widely copied vehicles ever serving as a template for cars around the world, from BMW to Nissan.
1924–1929 Bugatti Type 35 — The Type 35 was one of the most successful racing cars of all time, with over 1,000 victories in five years.
1927–1931 Ford Model A — After keeping the brass era Model T in production for too long, Ford broke from the past by restarting its model series with the 1927 Model A. More than 4 million were produced, making it the best-selling model of the era.
1930 Cadillac V-16 — Developed at the height of the vintage era, the V16-powered Cadillac would join Bugatti's Royale as the most legendary ultra-luxury cars of the era.
 Pre-War era
Citroën Traction AvantMain article: Classic car
The pre-war part of the classic era began with the Great Depression in 1930 and ended with the recovery after World War II, commonly placed at 1948. It was in this period that integrated fenders and fully-closed bodies began to dominate sales, with the new sedan body style even incorporating a trunk at the rear for storage. The old open-top runabouts, phaetons, and touring cars were phased out by the end of the classic era as wings, running boards, and headlights were gradually integrated with the body of the car.
By the 1930s most of the mechanical technology used in today's automobiles had been invented although some things were later "re-invented", and credited to someone else. For example, front-wheel drive was re-introduced by Andre Citroën with the launch of the Traction Avant in 1934, though it appeared several years earlier in road cars made by Alvis and Cord, and in racing cars by Miller (and may have appeared as early as 1897).
After 1930, the number of auto manufacturers declined sharply as the industry consolidated and matured.
Exemplary pre-war automobiles:
1932-1948 Ford V-8 - Ford introduced their powerful Flathead V8 in their mainstream model, creating a now-legendary car that dominated the world market much as the Model T and Model A had done in previous eras.
1934–1940 Bugatti Type 57 — A high-tech and refined automobile for the remaining rich of the time, the Type 57SC has become the singular classic car.
1934–1956 Citroën Traction Avant — The first mass-produced front-wheel drive car, built with monocoque techniques, was a technology masterpiece.
1932-1939 Alvis Speed 20 and Speed 25 - The first cars with all synchromesh gearbox, the speed models were excellent vehicles with the Speed 25 acknowledged as one of the finest prewar sports tourers ever made.
1936–1955 MG T series — This sports car for the masses came to represent the European motoring experience, especially for American soldiers fighting in the war.
1938–2003 Volkswagen Beetle — Perhaps the most-famous automobile of all time, it was a pre-war design that lasted through the modern era.
1940–1997 Oldsmobile — General Motors introduced the first fully automatic transmission, Hydra-Matic, with the 1940 Olds. This option was an instant hit, and within ten years, virtually all American automobile manufacturers offered automatics, which soon would become almost universal among buyers. Oldsmobile, along with Cadillac, also offered the first modern high-compression, overhead-valve V8 engine starting with the 1948 models.
Automobile design finally emerged from the shadow of World War II in 1949, the year that in the United States saw the introduction of high-compression V8 engines and modern bodies from General Motors' Oldsmobile and Cadillac brands. The unibody/strut-suspended 1951 Ford Consul joined the 1948 Morris Minor and 1949 Rover P4 in waking up the automobile market in the United Kingdom. In Italy, Enzo Ferrari was beginning his 250 series just as Lancia introduced their revolutionary V6-powered Aurelia.
Throughout the 1950s, engine power and vehicle speeds rose, designs became more integrated and artful, and cars spread across the world. Alec Issigonis' Mini and Fiat's 500 mini cars swept Europe, while the similar keicar class put Japan on wheels for the first time. The legendary VW Beetle survived Hitler's Germany to shake up the small car market in the Americas. Ultra luxury, exemplified in America by the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, reappeared after a long absence, and GT cars, like the Ferrari Americas, swept across Europe.
The market changed somewhat in the 1960s, as Detroit began to worry about foreign competition, the European makers adopted ever-higher technology, and Japan appeared as a serious car-producing nation. General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford tried radical small cars, like the GM A-bodies, but had little success. Captive imports and badge engineering swept through the U.S. and UK as conglomerates like the British Motor Corporation consolidated the market. Eventually, this trend reached Italy as niche makers like Maserati, Ferrari, and Lancia were acquired by larger companies. By the end of the decade, the automobile manufacturing world was much smaller.
In America, performance was the hot sell of the 1960s, with pony cars and muscle cars propping up the domestic industry. In 1964 the Ford mustang hit the markets. The Mustang was the hot ticket and was one of the most popular car of the early 1960s. In 1967 Chevrolet released the Camaro to compete with the Ford Mustang. In 1967 Chevy came out with the Camaro Z28, so in 1969 Fords competitiveness went into gear and they came out with the Mustang Boss 302 and the Mustang Boss 429. But everything changed in the 1970s as the 1973 oil crisis, automobile emissions control rules, Japanese and European imports, and stagnant innovation wreaked havoc on the American industry. Throughout the decade, small imported cars outperformed large American ones, and the domestic auto industry began to fail. Small performance cars from BMW, Toyota, and Nissan took the place of big-engined cars from America and Italy.
On the technology front, the biggest developments of the era were the widespread use of independent suspensions, wider application of fuel injection, and an increasing focus on safety in the design of automobiles. The hottest technologies of the 1960s were NSU's Wankel engine, the gas turbine, and the turbocharger. Of these, only the last, pioneered by General Motors but popularized by BMW and Saab, was to see widespread use. Little Mazda had much success with their "Rotary" engines, but was critically affected by its reputation as a polluting gas-guzzler. Other Wankel licensees, including Mercedes-Benz and General Motors, never put their designs into production. Rover and Chrysler both produced experimental turbine cars to no effect.
Cuba is famous for its pre-1959 cars, known as yank tanks or maquinas, because before the Cuban revolution many rich US citizens lived there, but after the revolution the influx of cars stopped due to the US boycot, so people made sure to keep the cars they had in good condition.
Exemplary post-war cars:
1947-1952 Studebaker Starlight - A well known coupe that had the company boasting "First by Far With a Post-War Car."
1948–1971 Morris Minor – A popular and typical post-war car exported around the world.
1949–1968 Oldsmobile 88 — This model introduced the high-compression mass-produced V8 engine to the masses, ushering in the power wars that led to the muscle car era.
1958-1976 Chevrolet Impala - The classic American fullsize car. Produced in forms ranging from family sedan to hot muscle car.
1959–2000 Mini — This quintessential small car lasted for four decades and is one of the most famous cars of all time.
1961–1975 Jaguar E-type —The E-type saved Jaguar on the track and in the showroom and was a standard for design and innovation in the 1960s.
1962–1977 BMC ADO16 — This front wheel drive car dominated sales in the United Kingdom, but excessive badge engineering doomed the brands of the British Motor Corporation.
1962–1964 Ferrari 250 GTO — The first supercar, the GTO was dominant in auto racing in the early 1960s.
1966-1972 Dodge Charger - one of the most powerful and desirable muscle cars ever.
1964–1970 Ford Mustang — The pony car that became one of the best-selling and most-collected cars of the era.
1964–1974 Pontiac GTO — The archetypal muscle car went from being an option package to a high-performance model.
1969-1980 Pontiac Trans Am- a muscle car that appealed to the masses and gave GM something to compete with Ford's Mustang. From about 1975 to 1980 they averaged an estimated 18 mpg–U.S. (13.07 L/100 km / 21.6 mpg–imp). The 1977 Pontiac Trans Am was the co star of Smokey and the Bandit next to Burt Reynolds
1954-present Chevrolet Corvette — Born in the post-war era, the Corvette is an American icon of automotive engineering and for many years America's only true sports car.
1969 Datsun 240Z — One of the first Japanese sports cars to be a smash hit with the North American public, it paved the way for future decades of Japanese strength in the automotive industry. It was affordable, well-built, and had great success both on the track and in the showroom.
The modern era is normally defined as the 25 years preceding the current year. However, there are some technical and design aspects that differentiate modern cars from antiques. Without considering the future of the car, the modern era has been one of increasing standardization, platform sharing, and computer-aided design.
Some particularly notable advances in modern times are the wide spread of front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, the adoption of the V6 engine configuration, and the ubiquity of fuel injection. While all of these advances were first attempted in earlier eras, they so dominate the market today that it is easy to overlook their significance. Nearly all modern passenger cars are front wheel drive unibody designs with transversely-mounted engines, but this design was considered radical as late as the 1960s.
Body styles have changed as well in the modern era. Three types, the hatchback, minivan, and sport utility vehicle, dominate today's market yet are relatively recent concepts. All originally emphasized practicality but have mutated into today's high-powered luxury crossover SUV and sports wagon. The rise of pickup trucks in the United States and SUVs worldwide has changed the face of motoring, with these "trucks" coming to command more than half of the world automobile market.
The modern era has also seen rapidly rising fuel efficiency and engine output. Once the automobile emissions concerns of 1970s were conquered with computerized engine management systems, power began to rise rapidly. In the 1980s, a powerful sports car might have produced 200 hp (150 kW)—just 20 years later, average passenger cars have engines that powerful, and some performance models offer three times as much power.
Exemplary modern cars:
1970-present Range Rover - The first take on the combination of luxury and four wheel drive utility, the original SUV. Such was the popularity of the original vehicle that a new model was not brought out until 1996.
1974–present VW Golf — The exemplary modern compact car, with a square hatchback body, transverse straight-4 engine, and room for five passengers.
1975–1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Seventy-Five — One of the largest cars ever made. With the largest, least-efficient engine in modern times, it came to exemplify the American automobile industry's problems in the 1970s.
1977–present Honda Accord sedan — This Japanese sedan became the most popular car in the United States in the 1990s, pushing the Ford Taurus aside, and setting the stage for today's upscale Asian sedans.
1948-1999 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight — A classic example of the "traditional", full size, American sedan.
1981-1989 Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant - The "K-cars" that saved Chrysler as a major manufacturer. These models were some of the first successful American front wheel drive, fuel-efficient compact cars, and the practicality and sound engineering of their platforms was unprecedented.
1983–present Chrysler minivans — The two-box minivan design nearly pushed the station wagon out of the market and presaged today's crossover SUVs.
1986–present Ford Taurus — This mid-sized front wheel drive sedan with modern Computer Assisted Design dominated the American market in the late 1980s and created a design revolution in North America.
1993-2005 Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision- These evolutionary styled cars shaped the future of passenger cars in the 90's. Chrysler introduced Cab forward styling on these cars 15 years ago. Even now car makers still use cab forward designs, especially on small cars like the Toyota Echo
1975-present BMW 3-Series - A compact car that is the world's best selling sport sedan. It provides luxury and performance at prices that are not totally out of reach. These cars are very profitable.
1993–present Jeep Grand Cherokee — The archetypal upscale SUV with four-wheel drive, V8 power, and a luxurious interior at a price reachable for the masses.
1966-present Toyota Corolla — A simple small Japanese sedan that has come to be the best selling car of all time.
Source : Wikipedia