Ten 'New' Car Technologies That Aren't New At All

Think Tesla is revolutionizing the car world with battery-swapped electric luxury cars? You might be surprised that everything old is new again.

The auto industry in the late 1800s and the early 1900s was filled with tiny companies building a few cars then quickly going out of business. No idea was too strange, because no one knew exactly what a car was supposed to be yet. What it all meant was that engineers tried out every crazy idea they could. Many failed, but most of the technologies we think of as 'new' in cars were first tried (unsuccessfully) at the dawn of the automotive age.


Here are just ten of today's 'groundbreaking' ideas that are really decades old, suggested by Jalopnik readers.

10.) Automatic High Beams


Headlights that dim when another car comes the other way seem to be a very modern convenience, but back in 1952, GM debuted what they creepily called the 'Autronic Eye' for Oldsmobile. It had a sensor that detected when another car was shining its highlights on your car, then dimmed your headlights automatically. You can read the whole brochure here.

Suggested By: MIATAAAA, Photo Credit: Oldsmobile

9.) Swivelling Headlights

Headlights that turn with the car, or just turn with the steering wheel seem to be one of the hot new features for luxury cars these days, but Citroen had them on the popular DS back in the 1960s. The first company to debut the technology was the streamlined Czech Tatra back in 1935.


Suggested By: Icanjumpthat3

8.) Retractable Hardtops


The new McLaren 12c Spider remains impressive because its retractable roof is carbon fiber, and when the top is up, most people can't tell the car is a convertible. Mitsubishi and Mercedes brought this idea back into the modern age int eh early '90s, but it goes all the way back to the 1934 Peugeot 601 Éclipse. It was thought up by the legendary French dentist/war hero/car designer Georges Paulin.

Suggested By: Kookanoodles, Photo Credit: Peugeot via Curbside Classic

7.) Hybrids


If you think gas/electric hybrids started with the Prius, think again. Porsche actually designed one for the long-gone Austrian car company back in 1900. It was called the "Mixte-Wagen" and it had electric motors in the wheels, and a battery charged by a gasoline engine.

Suggested By: Chairman Kaga, Photo Credit: Lohner-Porsche

6.) Electric Luxury and Racing Cars


Hybrids aren't new, but high-power electric luxury and racing cars are even older. Before 1900, most luxury cars were actually electric, since they were smoother, safer, and quieter. Early race cars, like the world's first car to break 62 miles an hour, were sometimes electric as well.

Suggested By: Bill_F1, Photo Credit: Wikipedia

5.) Push Button Starters


It's hard to impress your friends by pushing the starter on your Aston Martin, mostly because you can even get push-button starters on Hondas these days. Push starters were popular with sports cars through the '50s, and before the nineteen-teens cars didn't even have ignition keys.

Suggested By: justinthomasbradley, Photo Credit: Aston Martin

4.) Self-Leveling Suspensions


We love the McLaren's linked hydraulic suspension, but you could get self-levelling Citroens back in the mid-1950s. The first was the '54 Traction Avant, but the first dramatic use was on the '55 DS. The British Motor Corporation got similar 'hydrolastic' suspension in 1962, and Rolls-Royce licensed Citroen's system in 1965.

Suggested By: Aya, Photo Credit: Citroen via Alden Jewell

3.) Regenerative Braking


There wasn't really been a need for regenerative braking in modern cars until the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius brought hybrids back. The first car to recharge its battery with the brakes was Louis Krieger's front-wheel-drive electric horseless carriages. Krieger started buildng EVs back in 1894 in Paris with no less than eight distinct regenerative braking modes.

Suggested By: MentalMechanic, Photo Credit: Harris & Ewing Collection via Shorpy

2.) CVTs

Continuously Variable Transmissions are firmly in the mainstream new. You've been able to get them on Nissans for a few years, and even the upcoming Corolla will have an infinite-speed transmission. The first company to popularize "rubber band drive" was the Dutch DAF in the late 1950s. The first car to have a CVT was built by Milton Reeves back in 1896, derived from his saw mill transmission invented in 1879.


Suggested By: madhat1111

1.) Battery Swapping


Tesla is in the news these days for introducing a system for swapping depleted batteries for fresh ones on the Model S. They were far from the first, though. The Electric Vehicle Company (exciting name, to be sure) had a whole fleet of electric battery-swapped taxi cabs running in New York City in the late 1880s.


The idea was that the cabs would drive around until they were running out of juice, then return to a central station where the EVC had a warehouse full of freshly-charged batteries on reserve. The taxi would drive onto a little platform, and a technician would swap the old battery out for the recharged one. The company ended up spending so much money keeping their own battery-swap technology going that their cabs grew too old, obsolete, and expensive to maintain. They went bankrupt in 1907.

Suggested By: XC99TF00, Photo Credit: JalopyJournal, twin6P

Welcome back to Answers of the Day - our daily Jalopnik feature where we take the best ten responses from the previous day's Question of the Day and shine it up to show off. It's by you and for you, the Jalopnik readers. Enjoy!


Top Photo Credit: Drive

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