Automakers go to great lengths to ensure their cars perform right. They can’t take any risks with drivers’ safety or dissatisfaction with their product. At the same time, they’re always looking to add new features that will elevate their vehicles and the brand.
One can imagine the brainstorming meetings these major automakers have when trying to crack the "next big thing.” They all sit in a boardroom, put their bowed heads together with furrowed brows and assert that nothing is off the table. It’s in this unrestricted environment where no idea seems too ludicrous and anything is possible.
With this level of freedom, execs and engineers throw out the craziest ideas for car features. They can be so outlandish, it causes one to retort, “It just might work!” Then they start testing it. During the testing process, they get one of two possible results: a dud or a success. Based on the outcome, they either abandon it altogether, try again or start implementing the feature into production cars.
When automakers brainstorm new features and have lots of capital funding those ideas, things get weird. The weird ideas sometimes work; other times they fail badly.
We’re going to look at the weirdest car features that major brands actually tested. Some of the weird ideas didn’t work forcing automakers to abandon them, while others got approval, leaving many drivers baffled. In the end, there’s a reason automakers wrap their cars up in black and white camouflaged padding—some ideas are just too weird to show off.
25 Approved: Pedestrian Airbags
Airbags come standard in vehicles today. They’re known for being on the inside though, not the outside. These airbags deploy on the outside and can cushion a pedestrian from impact with the car. Jalopnik reports that vehicles like the 2015 Land Rover Discovery Sport have played with the concept, which activates in a mere 60 milliseconds.
If it can actually save people from harm, then it’s an ingenious idea. Still, whether it is effective or not, it’s going to take some getting used to.
24 Abandoned: Spherical-Shaped Wheels
This odd feature is straight out of a sci-fi film—except it belongs in one that bombed at the box office. The idea of spherical balls sounds cool but seems hard to imagine from a practical standpoint.
While it sounds beneficial to be able to pivot around at 360-degree angles, actually pulling it off is a different story. They attempted it with the A360 concept car. According to Prestone Car Maintenance & Protection Products, it drove around on three spherical balls. This idea didn’t make it to production though.
23 Approved: Openometer
An odd device called an "openometer” is proof that automakers are either running out of ideas or mankind has a need to track everything. Appearing in the Mini Cooper convertible, it was a round gauge that sat on the dashboard of the car.
According to Road and Track, it counted the amount of time one had their roof down, measured in minutes and hours. The same source speculates that drivers may want to regulate the duration of sunlight exposure on their skin, though it seems odd automakers would make a whole gauge purely for it.
22 Abandoned: Solar Panels That Brake
One car put engineering before beauty in an attempt to break through with a new car feature. The BMW Lovos installed odd alien-looking panels all across its exterior. It almost looks like an impenetrable armor that’s supposed to protect from rockets.
Prestone Car Maintenance & Protection Products reports that the panels serve two purposes: acting as brakes and both solar panels to absorb energy. There’s a total of 260 flaps covering the outside of the car. Although an interesting idea, it didn’t take off.
21 Approved: Dog-Friendly Package
Dogs are part of the family, so it’s only fair owners make them comfortable while on the go. The Honda Element offered a package that catered to dog owners, but in an extreme way.
Appropriately dubbed the “dog-friendly package,” as per Road and Track, the optional feature took up the entire trunk area. It cost nearly $1,000 to outfit the back with a soft crate, water bowl, and fan that’s enough to make man's best friend feel like a king.
20 Abandoned: Wings That Brake
General Motors tested a new way to brake back in the 1950s. The wings on their first model were not wings at all—but parts intended to bring a vehicle to a stop. According to Listosaur, the flaps on the Firebird I acted as brakes for the rocket-shaped car.
It also came with a 370 hp gas turbine engine, which probably put the brake flaps to the test in slowing the car down. By the time they released the Firebird II, this feature was missing from the car.
19 Approved: Top Speed Key
It seems that the more one pays for a car, the better the driving experience. The Bugatti Veyron 16.4 seems to think otherwise, instead opting for exclusivity. Road and Track report that in order to reach a top speed surpassing 250 mph, it requires drivers to insert a specific key.
That changes the car’s suspension to make it suited for such mind-boggling speeds. While the feature may appeal to some, it has most of the car community rolling their eyes.
18 Abandoned: Dueling Steering Wheels
The makers behind the eRinGo car had a few revolutionary and bizarre concepts in mind. Aside from the car being in the shape of a wheel that passengers sat inside of, it also sought to introduce a new feature: dual steering wheels.
Perhaps the ones behind it thought, “What’s better than one steering wheel? Two!” Prestone Car Maintenance & Protection Products suggests that this feature could allow either side of the vehicle to act as the driver. It makes one wonder why there wasn’t just a moveable single steering wheel.
17 Approved: “Gentleman Function”
As some cars get pricier, they get less creative in catering to their pampered owners. The BMW 750i has a feature that should appeal to prospective buyers in name alone: “The Gentleman Function.”
Coming in the form of a button, as per Road and Track, it automatically adjusted the driver’s seat to make room for anyone sitting in the backseat. When drivers are alone, they can deactivate it to go back to the legroom they’re used to up front. It’s an odd feature that seems superfluous.
16 Abandoned: Four Steering Wheels
The name of Ford's Seattle-ite XXI is enough to raise red flags. If that's not enough, the exterior confirms one’s concerns. If onlookers still remain unconvinced, the idea behind this car will assuage.
Listosaur reports it had six wheels, a computer (impressive for the 1960s) and fuel cells. While it tried to be a car of the future, one of its odder features was four steering that moved simultaneously wherever the car turned. That’s two more steering wheels than the eRinGo had, though that doesn’t make it any better.
15 Approved: Curb Feelers
These don’t look very aesthetically pleasing on cars, but they can come in handy. Curb feelers stick on the underside of a car’s wheels and alert drivers when they’re too close to the curb.
It’s odd finding this feature on cars today since they’re not very common. Jalopnik makes a good point: feelers are no longer necessary since drivers have become accustomed to using their mirrors. That takes away the need for curb feelers, which are similar to training wheels for starting drivers.
14 Abandoned: Mobile Discotheque
Drivers like to jack up the radio, sing without care and turn their vehicles into personal recording studios. Now they don’t have to do the heavy lifting of imagining it when their car comes that way.
According to Prestone Car Maintenance & Protection Products, the Honda Fuja-Jo was a concept car that brought a mobile party bus to life. The inside offered a DJ-themed dashboard. It had so many strange features that no one wondered why the car died out in silence after a beat dropped...
13 Approved: Heartbeat Sensor
Tech is becoming more integrated into automobiles. It’s inevitable that even the weird ideas get beyond the testing phase and actually end up in the final result. According to Jalopnik, Volvo has a heartbeat sensor feature that’s meant to detect if a living and breathing person is in the car all from the key fob.
An ad shows a woman going to her car late at night and checking her flashing fob to find that an intruder is waiting inside; whether it really comes in handy for owners is up for debate.
12 Abandoned: Nuclear Powered
Automakers actually tinkered with nuclear power. The Ford Nucleon attempted to harness nuclear energy to get around. Listosaur notes that they actually considered outfitting the car with a miniaturized nuclear reactor. If this idea had taken off, there could have been thousands of these cars on the road today, making for a volatile driving experience.
The Nucleon actually put the reactor in the back of the car, which stretched out much further than convention vehicles. It also had two large fins to make it look more stylish.
11 Approved: Headlight Wipers
Even if a car feature is weird, it doesn’t mean it’s useless. Headlight wipers are a great idea, albeit a strange one. There are many instances where this could prove useful, especially for those who drive in rainy climates.
Headlights are just as susceptible to fogging up as windshields, which can distort lights seen by others. Headlight wipers seek to remedy this problem facing drivers today, although adds another set of moving parts that may need regular maintenance and repairs.
10 Abandoned: Colorful Exterior Lights
At first glance, the Nissan 126X has an appealing exterior. It looks like a car that would appear in Bladerunner. The car had a few odd features, one of them being a series of lights that went down the center of the hood.
According to Listosaur, these lights would change colors based on the vehicle’s actions. If it increased speed, the lights turned green; braking it turned red; when it stayed at the same acceleration, the lights were yellow. It’s an odd place on the car to put such a distracting feature.
9 Approved: Perfume Dispenser
People smell and so do their cars. That’s why stores offer those Little Trees to freshen up the interior. The Fiat 500 wanted to offer their owners with something built-in that comes in the form of a perfume dispenser.
According to Road and Track, the automaker started launching their Fiat 500 cars with a diffuser that goes on the center console. There’s even the ability to adjust the scent strength. Although it makes sense, many drivers are content with rolling down their windows here and there.
8 Abandoned: Gyroscopes
Ford is guilty (again) of landing on the list for experimenting with a weird car feature that didn’t make it. The Ford Gyron, which Listosaur reports came out in 1961—a whole year before their Seattle-ite XXI—only had two wheels.
Whether it was trying to be a car of the future or a glorified motorcycle is unclear. How it compensated for the lack of wheels was through gyroscopes, hence where the name comes from, which helped to keep it balanced. The idea itself could have used some gyroscopes to remain afloat.
7 Approved: Cooled and Heated Cupholders
When drivers want to keep their beverages cold in the summer heat, or else hot in the freezing winters, they're in luck. Cooled and heated cupholders—as strange as it sounds—do exist. The concept could use some further tweaking though, which surprisingly made it into production cars.
Cars.com reports that they don’t work properly to cool or heat personal drink containers. Not all bottles and cups compliment this new technology, only keeping one half of the drink at the desired temperature.
6 Abandoned: Powered By Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Car makers are always looking at alternative fuels to power their vehicles. Today, EVs are all the rage, but there was a time when other options were seriously considered. Take the Peugeot Egochine, for example, which looked more like a shaving razor than it did an automobile.
According to DGiT, the designers behind this vehicle sought to power it using hydrogen fuel cells. It also had three wheels and could only fit the driver. As inventive as a concept this razor-shaped car was, it never made the cut.
5 Approved: Light-Up Speakers
An important aspect of driving is listening to music. Whether it be a daily commute to work or a lengthy road trip, people like to escape the mundanity of driving with some of their favorite tunes.
The Kia Soul upped drivers’ audio experience with a visual component: colorful speakers that glow. They even pulse in unison with the music. In reality, though, it sounds more like a distracting hazard. Although impressive, it will have many drivers wondering if it’s really necessary for their speakers to light up.
4 Abandoned: Magnet Powered
This sounds like something out of a Looney Tunes episode where Wile E. Coyote uses a giant horseshoe magnet to power an Acme car. According to Prestone Car Maintenance & Protection Products, the industry has tested magnet cars and roads. Not only does this type of vehicle change the way cars go, but also changes up all the roads already in place.
The magnetization of both cars and roads caused the car to hover. In the end, the magnet car failed to attract interest.
3 Approved: Ventilated Seats
No, that’s not the road making those seats rumble, it’s that new ventilated feature. As a YouTube clip by i25 Kia shows, these seats—which contain tiny holes throughout the fabric—cool drivers and passengers down.
Some cars even let drivers control the rate of force blown. Most drivers aren’t used to having air blown behind their heads, shoulders and back, so it’s going to make many feel odd when they try it. In time, drivers will get used to it as long as automakers continue to add it in their vehicles.
2 Abandoned: Powered By “Flow Technology”
Many features automakers tested sound like the stuff of a dream world. Some of their ideas sound downright bad on paper. The 5 Quant e-Sportlimousine had an odd name and an even odder method of powering the car.
DGiT reports that they planned to use a new technology they dubbed “Flow Cell.” According to the same source, they sought to run the car with an electrical charge that catalyzed “electrolytic solutions," whatever that means. It was a daring attempt at making something new that ultimately flatlined.
1 Approved: Panoramic Sun Roof
It’s safe to say the sunroof—despite one’s opinion of the feature—was a success. It is widespread and comes built-in to many cars today. Now there’s a new feature taking that concept to a new level: panoramic sunroofs.
The photos make it look nice and appealing, but it can have a few adverse effects. Motoring Box reports that it invites more heat into the vehicle and also cuts down on much-needed headroom. Those are impractical drawbacks one may not realize until they take it for a test drive.
Sources: Prestone Car Maintenance & Protection Products, Listosaur, DGiT, YouTube, Cars.com, Motoring Box, Road, and Track, Jalopnik