China has said nothing about a possible cause behind the incident that closed one of the most politically sensitive and heavily guarded public spaces in the country, but police erected screens to hide the aftermath and hurriedly cleaned up the scene while images of the crash were removed from the internet.
The injured were among the crowds in front of the Tiananmen Gate, where a large portrait of Mao Zedong hangs at the southern entrance to the former imperial palace.
Any incident in the area is considered sensitive because the square was the focus of a 1989 pro-democracy movement that was violently suppressed by the military.
The square is still heavily policed to guard against political protests as occasionally happens on sensitive dates.
The crash had every appearance of being deliberate, since the driver apparently jumped a kerb and travelled about 400 yards to the spot where it caught fire while avoiding trees, street lights and at least one security checkpoint.
Police did not immediately say who was inside the car.
Photos of the scene that circulated on the internet showed images of a vehicle emitting thick smoke at Tiananmen Gate. Injured people, including a young girl, lay on the ground, many of them bleeding heavily.
Police swiftly cleared up the scene, first clearing the area of visitors then blocking views of the vehicle wreckage with rectangular screens. Later, there were no remaining signs of fire, car debris or damage to any of the structures in the plaza.
Attendants and concession stand vendors nearby who were asked about incident all said they were not clear on what happened.