7 weird innovations in car design that never caught on
Every now and then in the field of car design, a new feature comes along which is so immediately effective and useful, that within a few years it becomes a staple in the automotive industry.
So it was when The Audi Quattro – the first regular car to be fitted with AWD - burst onto the scene, quite literally leaving its competition in the dust. Or when the Mercedes S-class blew our minds with its radar-assisted cruise control. Even the original Toyota Prius has bragging rights here – plastic dustbin of sadness it may be, but it’s also the granddaddy of the hybrid technology now found in McLarens and Porsches.
Of course, not all brilliant ideas catch on, and not all ideas are brilliant. With that in mind, here are a few innovations in car design that, for one reason or another, never really caught on. Our loss…
7. Rotary engines
We petrolheads tend to have a real soft spot for rotaries. No doubt it’s partly thanks to their ability to provide superbike-level revs, but more than that, I think we admire the sheer audacity of them. After all, you have to assume that at some point early in the development of the first rotary, some mad engineer stood up in a meeting and said something to the effect of ‘Fuck all this piston bullshit, let’s power our car with a BIG SPINNY BLADE.’ And bless them, everyone else in the room went: ‘You brilliant bastard, let’s absolutely do that.’
Wonderful as they are, it’s easy to see why rotaries never truly caught on; they’re fussy to maintain and, if neglected, can cost an arm and a leg to repair.
6. Inbuilt vacuum cleaner
Here's a simple, but genuinely brilliant idea: The Honda Odyssey – a minivan sold in the U.S – comes as-standard with a small vacuum stowed away in a cubby in the boot. Genius! Innovations in car design don’t all have to be super high-tech and futuristic, this is just something that would make your life a bit easier. Got muddy dogs in the back? No prob. Can’t wake up Grandpa? Easy peasy. Car industry, take notes!
5. Beetle flower vase
Ugh. It seems that a few years ago, Volkswagen designers looked at their beloved Beetle and asked themselves: ‘What is the final flourish that will complete our car’s transition from Nazi propaganda-mobile to flower-child beach cruiser? Their answer? Actual flowers.
Oh, yes. You can buy a genuine VW-made vase which clips onto your Beetle’s dash, allowing you to enjoy lovely floral aromas while praising the führer. Unglaublich.
4. TVR Everything
If we wanted to, we could do a whole list of weird car features and talk exclusively about TVR, but my favourite of their many quirks has to be their disdain for door handles. Most TVRs don’t have any, opting instead for a little button hidden underneath the wing mirror. Perhaps this was designed to make the car look sleeker, but knowing TVR, it could just as easily have been an effort to bamboozle car thieves into submission. After all, Johnny Crim can’t steal it if he can’t get the doors open… right?
3. Automatic seatbelts
A few years ago, while living in California, I took a ride in my friend’s 1990’s Honda Civic. It was a skip on wheels really, which made it all the more astonishing when the SEATBELT PUT ITSELF ON FOR ME. Yup. When the engine starts, the seatbelt, slides towards you along the upper edge of the window and slots into place. When you open the door, it slides forward, allowing you to get out.
Why on earth didn’t this catch on? My guess is that car brands figured putting on a seatbelt isn’t that much of a pain to begin with. But then, neither is closing a boot, or pressing a button on a car key, yet those same brands are falling over one another to rid us of such ordeals.
Hey car industry; how about instead of giving us the ability to turn the volume down by twirling a hand in the air like Hermione fucking Granger, you give us an automated seatbelt so that we don’t have to nag kids to put theirs on anymore? Food for thought.
2. Pedestrian airbags
A few years ago, Volvo began tinkering with designs for a little inflatable mattress that would deploy from the bottom of your windscreen in the event of a crash. Presumably the idea is that it cushions the head of the unwitting cyclist you just ploughed into, while preventing any pesky skull-shaped dents in your bonnet.
It’s a nice idea, but has been largely overlooked by rival brands, in favour of a push towards technology that prevents the car hitting someone in the first place. Probably for the best. It’s kind of a shame though; imagine if next time some sicko plotted to run a bunch of people down in an attack, they foolishly chose a new Volvo as their weapon. Instead of death and carnage, they provide the city centre with a pop-up bouncy castle. That’s the world I want to live in.
1. Heartbeat sensor
Ah, those kooky swedes are full of ideas. I’m not sure quite what the point of this one was meant to be but, for a while in the mid-2000s, Volvo believed that what the modern automobile was really missing… was a heart rate monitor that allowed us to detect any living beings in our car from a distance. Why? Who on earth knows. Here are my best guesses:
1. It must be a regular inconvenience of Swedish life to enter one’s car in the morning and find a hostile moose stowed in the back seat, hiding out from the snow. This is therefore, an anti-moose device.
2. Perhaps it was invented purely to serve as a new plot device in those gritty Scandinavian crime novels: ‘Gustav, wait.’ Said Freja, her face, more pale than usual. ‘Don’t open the door, The monitor says that… there’s someone in the Volvo.’ ‘Don’t be so silly Freja,’ Gustav exclaimed. ‘I’m sure it’s just a moose. No need to be afrAAAAAHHHHHHH’
What’s the most obscure feature you’ve seen on a car? Let us know in the comments below!