The first working steam-powered vehicle was designed—and most likely built—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.
Cugnot's 1771 fardier à vapeur, as preserved at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is widely credited with building the first full-scale, self-propelled mechanical vehicle or car 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.
The development of external combustion engines is detailed as part of the history of the car, but often treated separately from the development of true cars. A variety of steam-powered road vehicles were used during the first part of the 19th century, including steam cars, steam buses, phaetons, and steam rollers. Sentiment against them led to the Locomotive Acts of 1865.