It’s often said there’s nothing new under the sun, and that’s as true in the automotive world as anywhere else. We’re constantly being dazzled with the latest tech, but it only takes a quick flick through the history books to discover that much of what’s ‘new’ has actually been seen before – often decades ago.
Here we look at 10 relatively recent innovations and find out just how fresh they really are. Plus we note five engineering inventions that promised to transform the way we drive, before pretty much disappearing without a trace. So dig in for a little motoring déjà vu.
The Toyota Prius was arguably the car that kick-started this revolution in 1997, although Alfa Romeo and Audi were experimenting with hybrids in the 1980s. Yet this system is almost as old as the car itself, with the Ferdinand Porsche-designed Lohner-Porsche Mixte making its debut in 1900. Drive was by a pair of hub-mounted electric motors, which were powered by batteries charged by two De Dion-Bouton petrol engines. The arrival of the Ford Model T made this heavy and expensive propulsion system redundant for nearly a century.
A climate-controlled cabin is still a fairly novel experience for many UK motorists, but the US was a much earlier adopter, with chilled interiors standard on most cars by the early 1970s. For the first true air-conditioned car, you have to go back to 1940, when Packard offered the Babcock and Bishop Weather-Conditioner. It worked, but an astronomical price and cooling gubbins that took up most of the boot meant it proved unpopular, paving the way for the more powerful and compact Chrysler Airtemp system of 1953.