Levels of ownership have risen significantly since automobiles were pioneered in the 19th century. The United States was the first country in which mass ownership became common and 60% of families owned a car in 1929. By the 21st century in the United States, there was, on average, a vehicle for every person of driving age and more vehicles than people with driving licences. This level of ownership was so great that, in 2010, the total number of vehicles dropped significantly for the first time, falling by four million to 247 million.
Overall, across the world, levels of ownership increased fourfold between 1950 and 1999, from 48 people per automobile in 1950 to just 12.
A car is typically a major purchase and so there are a variety of financial schemes to facilitate the purchase. These include hire purchase, company cars, trade-in and leasing. Other forms of provision which centralise the ownership as a service include rental, car sharing and vehicle hire.
In some countries, there are additional regulations that must be fulfilled before purchasing or leasing a car. For example, in Japan, due to the high population density and the limited space, a prospective owner must first provide proof of a space to park the car in question. This regulation, combined with high fuel prices, has caused a class of cars known as kei cars to develop. These small cars, limited in dimension (3.40x1.48x2.00m length, width and height) and engine displacement (660 cc or 0.66 L), can be purchased without having to provide this proof.
In the USA Vehicle ownership is documented on a certificate of title. In the USA, each state's Department of Motor Vehicles or Registry of Motor Vehicles issues such documents when a vehicle is registered. Title deeds vary by design but always include vehicle-specific information at the front of the document (such as year, make, model, VIN, color, etc.) and several boxes for transaction information at the back where information about change of ownership is recorded (such as sale date, odometer reading, seller and buyer names and signatures, etc.). In-state vehicle sales are recorded at the back of the title as long as there are unused reassignment boxes. If a vehicle is sold out-of-state the new owner must apply for a new title at the local DMV office.
In the USA, the Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin (MCO), also known as Manufacturer's Statement of Origin (MSO) is the ownership document issued by the vehicle manufacturer that assigns ownership of a new vehicle to a franchise car dealership until said vehicle is registered and titled. This document is similar to the title deed in content, but is to be used among licensed car dealers only.
In the developed world the number of cars per 100 people is generally between 30 and 50, with a few countries (such as Canada and New Zealand) over this. In China there are two cars per 100 people, and very poor countries such as Somalia have less than one car per thousand people. The rate of car ownership is increasing almost everywhere, and is predicted to rise very rapidly in countries such as China and India.