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The automotive industry began in the 1860s with hundreds of manufacturers that pioneered the horseless carriage. For many decades, the United States led the world in total automobile production. In 1929, before the Great Depression, the world had 32,028,500 automobiles in use, and the U.S. automobile industry produced over 90% of them. At that time, the U.S. had one car per 4.87 persons. After 1945, the U.S. produced about 75 percent of world's auto production. In 1980, the U.S. was overtaken by Japan and then became world's leader again in 1994. In 2006, Japan narrowly passed the U.S. in production and held this rank until 2009, when China took the top spot with 13.8 million units. With 19.3 million units manufactured in 2012, China almost doubled the U.S. production of 10.3 million units, while Japan was in third place with 9.9 million units. From 1970 (140 models) over 1998 (260 models) to 2012 (684 models), the number of automobile models in the U.S. has grown exponentially.
Early car manufaturing involved manual assembly by a human worker. The process evolved from engineers working on a stationary car, to a conveyor belt system where the car passed through multiple stations of more specialised engineers. Starting in the 1960s, robotic equipment was introduced to the process, and today most cars are produced largely with automated machinary. 
Safety is a state that implies to be protected from any risk, danger, damage or cause of injury. In the automotive industry, safety means that users, operators or manufacturers do not face any risk or danger coming from the motor vehicle or its spare parts. Safety for the automobiles themselves, implies that there is no risk of damage.
Safety in the automotive industry is particularly important and therefore highly regulated. Automobiles and other motor vehicles have to comply with a certain number of regulations, whether local or international, in order to be accepted on the market. The standard ISO 26262, is considered as one of the best practice framework for achieving automotive functional safety.
In case of safety issues, danger, product defect or faulty procedure during the manufacturing of the motor vehicle, the maker can request to return either a batch or the entire production run. This procedure is called product recall. Product recalls happen in every industry and can be production-related or stem from the raw material.
Product and operation tests and inspections at different stages of the value chain are made to avoid these product recalls by ensuring end-user security and safety and compliance with the automotive industry requirements. However, the automotive industry is still particularly concerned about product recalls, which cause considerable financial consequences.
In 2007, there were about 806 million cars and light trucks on the road, consuming over 980 billion litres (980,000,000 m3) of gasoline and diesel fuel yearly. The automobile is a primary mode of transportation for many developed economies. The Detroit branch of Boston Consulting Group predicted that, by 2014, one-third of world demand would be in the four BRIC markets (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Meanwhile, in the developed countries, the automotive industry has slowed. It is also expected that this trend will continue, especially as the younger generations of people (in highly urbanized countries) no longer want to own a car anymore, and prefer other modes of transport. Other potentially powerful automotive markets are Iran and Indonesia.
Emerging automobile markets already buy more cars than established markets. According to a J.D. Power study, emerging markets accounted for 51 percent of the global light-vehicle sales in 2010. The study, performed in 2010 expected this trend to accelerate. However, more recent reports (2012) confirmed the opposite; namely that the automotive industry was slowing down even in BRIC countries. In the United States, vehicle sales peaked in 2000, at 17.8 million units.
The OICA counts over 50 countries which assemble, manufacture or disseminate automobiles. Of that figure, only 14 countries (boldfaced in the list below) currently possess the capability to design original production automobiles from the ground up.
Fujian Motors Group holds a 15% stake in King Long. FMG, Beijing Automotive Group, China Motor, and Daimler has a joint venture called Fujian Benz. FMG, China Motor, and Mitsubishi Motors has a joint venture called Soueast, FMG holds a 50% stake, and both China Motor and Mitsubishi Motors holds an equal 25% stake.
Renault and Nissan Motors have an alliance (Renault-Nissan Alliance) involving two global companies linked by cross-shareholding, with Renault holding 43.4% of Nissan shares, and Nissan holding 15% of (non-voting) Renault shares.
Volkswagen Group holds a 37.73% stake in Scania (68.6% voting rights), a 53.7% stake in MAN SE (55.9% voting rights), Volkswagen is integrating Scania, MAN and its own truck division into one division.