Every so often, a car company deviates from the norm, and puts a little mustard on the ordinary automobile format. Sometimes these ideas take off, like seatbelts. Sometimes they don’t exactly catch on.
Perhaps my favorite example of a car tech that was interesting but forever niche was Mazda’s oscillating air vents. You’d see these on American-market 626s from the 1980s and 1990s — I guess if you ever saw a 1980s or 1990s Mazda 626 at all. These were a long way from reaching the popularity of a Camry or a Taurus, and I guess Mazda was willing to try anything to stand out.
Press the “swing” button on the dash and your air vents would rotate from side to side. To say that this feature was obscure would be an understatement. Here is, for instance, a Mazda 626 owner with no idea what this mysterious button even does:
How did it work? Well, it was similar to an oscillating fan in your house, with a teensy electric motor hiding between the center vents, driving gears that turned your vents back and forth. Here is the system in action:
And here is what the mechanism looks like outside the car:
Was any of this particularly necessary? Well the moderator of the Mazda626 forum I linked to above claims that the vents are “what made a 626 a 626,” but even the other people on the 626 forum couldn’t be bothered fixing their broken swing vents, and more of them said they didn’t bother using the function even when it worked. Americans just hog the A/C, and most people on the forum said they just turned the vents at themselves and called it a day.
What wonderful, weird, dead-end car tech do you wish caught on? Are there any Envoy XUV fans still out there?