Although Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is often credited with building the first self-propelled mechanical vehicle or automobile in about 1769 by adapting an existing horse-drawn vehicle, this claim is disputed by some, who doubt Cugnot's three-wheeler ever ran or was stable. Ferdinand Verbiest, a member of a Jesuit mission in China, built the first steam-powered vehicle around 1672 which was of small scale and designed as a toy for the Chinese Emperor that was unable to carry a driver or a passenger, but quite possibly, was the first working steam-powered vehicle ('auto-mobile'). What is not in doubt is that Richard Trevithick built and demonstrated his Puffing Devil road locomotive in 1801, believed by many to be the first demonstration of a steam-powered road vehicle although it was unable to maintain sufficient steam pressure for long periods, and would have been of little practical use.
In Russia, in the 1780s, Ivan Kulibin developed a human-pedalled, three-wheeled carriage with modern features such as a flywheel, brake, gear box, and bearings; however, it was not developed further.
François Isaac de Rivaz, a Swiss inventor, designed the first internal combustion engine, in 1806, which was fueled by a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen and used it to develop the world's first vehicle, albeit rudimentary, to be powered by such an engine. The design was not very successful, as was the case with others such as Samuel Brown, Samuel Morey, and Etienne Lenoir with his hippomobile, who each produced vehicles (usually adapted carriages or carts) powered by clumsy internal combustion engines.
In November 1881 French inventor Gustave Trouvé demonstrated a working three-wheeled automobile that was powered by electricity. This was at the International Exhibition of Electricity in Paris.
Although several other German engineers (including Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, and Siegfried Marcus) were working on the problem at about the same time, Karl Benz generally is acknowledged as the inventor of the modern automobile.
An automobile powered by his own four-stroke cycle gasoline engine was built in Mannheim, Germany by Karl Benz in 1885 and granted a patent in January of the following year under the auspices of his major company, Benz & Cie., which was founded in 1883. It was an integral design, without the adaptation of other existing components and including several new technological elements to create a new concept. This is what made it worthy of a patent. He began to sell his production vehicles in 1888.