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An automobile (or motor car) is a wheeled passenger vehicle that carries its own motor. Most definitions of the term specify that automobiles are designed to run primarily on roads, to have seating for one to seven people, typically have four wheels and be constructed principally for the transport of people rather than goods. However, the term is far from precise.

As of 2002, there were 590 million passenger cars worldwide (roughly one car for every eleven people), of which 140 million were in the U.S. (roughly one car for every two people)

An automobile powered by the Otto gasoline engine was invented in Germany by Karl Benz in 1885. Benz was granted a patent dated 29 January 1886 in Mannheim for that automobile. Even though Benz is credited with the invention of the modern automobile, several other German engineers worked on building automobiles at the same time. In 1886, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart patented the first motor bike, built and tested in 1885, and in 1886 they built a converted horse-drawn stagecoach. In 1870, German-Austrian inventor Siegfried Marcus assembled a motorized handcart, though Marcus' vehicle did not go beyond the experimental stage.

Since the 1920s nearly all cars have been mass-produced to meet market needs, so marketing plans have often heavily influenced automobile design. It was Alfred P. Sloan who established the idea of different makes of cars produced by one firm, so that buyers could "move up" as their fortunes improved. The makes shared parts with one another so that the larger production volume resulted in lower costs for each price range. For example, in the 1950s, Chevrolet shared hood, doors, roof, and windows with Pontiac; the LaSalle of the 1930s, sold by Cadillac, used the cheaper mechanical parts made by the Oldsmobile division.

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