Auto tech is continuing to transform the automotive industry. Virtually every modern car on the road today is technologically advanced, whether it’s rearview cameras, heated seats, or advanced driver assist systems. While cars today are more innovative than ever before, auto tech development has seen incredible ups and downs throughout recent history.
Automotive technology has seen failures that car manufacturers would argue are best forgotten. The failures include self-driving tech to next-level suspension technologies and even more ambitious projects (such as nuclear-powered cars). Here are some of the greatest auto tech failures in history.
The World’s First Self-Driving Death
The first death due to a self-driving car occurred in 2018, in an accident that had immense implications for the future of autonomous driving.
A self-driving Uber test car caused the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. As a result of further investigation and discussion surrounding the incident, its occurrence has been put down to human error. The vehicle’s safety driver had reportedly spent a third of the total time in the car looking at her phone and was streaming an online television show just moments before the impact.
Many experts concluded that while these actions were against Uber’s self-driving safety policies, the incident has highlighted broader issues regarding autonomous vehicle tech development.
Ultimately, self-driving has had few traffic deaths. Many crashes reported have been minor. AVs are not a common sight on the road, as they are still in testing mode.
Regardless of how uncommon self-driving crashes are, the 2018 incident caused immense consternation throughout the general public. Since then, it has resulted in the call for changes to auto tech development approaches and a greater focus on technological advancement safety.
Bose’s Ambitious Suspension Project
Next on our list of automotive tech failures is Bose’s venture into car suspension technology. While it didn’t end up being a complete failure, the project was fraught with speed bumps that even electromagnetic Bose suspension couldn’t get over smoothly.
The technology first demonstrated in the mid-2000s utilized linear electric motors in place of traditional shock absorbers. They worked by retracting and extending in response to road sensor data, reacting within milliseconds. The result was a car that could glide over potholes and jump over obstacles.
Unfortunately, the audio company’s venture into car suspension was a commercial disaster. The technology involved resulted in making cars not only too heavy but too expensive, too. Bose never did find a way around these obstacles, and the 2007-2008 global financial crisis only solidified this reality.
Bose’s suspension project wasn’t a complete failure. While Bose abandoned the project, it was then sold to a company called Clearmotion. Since acquiring the technology, they have developed it into a system that marks a significant technological leap and has already piqued several automobile manufacturers’ interest.
Chrysler’s Jet Engine Car
In an ambitious attempt to change the car industry forever, Chrysler once spent 30 years trying to create a turbine engine-powered car.
Called the Chrysler Turbine Car, the project began in the late 1930s, and by the early 1950s, the company finally had developed a working prototype. The car was built with an under-the-bonnet jet engine, with engineers interested in potential success thanks to diverse fuel options and fewer moving parts than a traditional car engine.
While a car with a jet engine sounds cool in theory, the reality wasn’t quite as exciting. Chrysler ran a user program from 1963 to 1966, and this was the beginning of the end for the Chrysler Turbine Car. The program involved over 200 drivers and ultimately resulted in mixed feedback. Positive feedback highlighted durability, smooth operation, and low maintenance needs. Negative comments ranged from the complex starting procedure and loud noise level to the poor fuel economy and sub-par acceleration.
Despite destroying the vast majority of these cars following the testing period, Chrysler did continue development in the following years. Ultimately, the company’s jet engine program closed down in 1979, with little to show for it.
Aside from the name (which is a failure in itself), Ford Th!nk was a dramatic failure in its attempt to make an early break into the electric car industry. The company began in 1991 as Think Global. By 1999, its finances were already running low, and Ford decided to acquire the company, with the hopes of breathing new life into the idea of electric cars.
At the time, the electric and hybrid vehicle market was almost non-existent. Even today, electric cars comprise an insignificant portion of any automotive market in the world. However, in 1999 just 17 electric-hybrid vehicles were sold in the US. The EV industry didn’t provide many opportunities to car manufacturers. By 2003, Ford ran out of patience and sold the company.
Most people agree that the failure of Th!nk had to do with the vehicle, itself which resembled expensive golf carts—small, with low top speeds, and low ranges. The company also manufactured golf carts and bicycles, blurring the lines between cars and golf carts even further.
By 2011, the company filed for bankruptcy for the fourth and final time. Ultimately, despite being a failure, Th!nk Global achieved several milestones, including creating the first crash-tested, highway-certified electric cars in the world.
The State of Auto Tech Today
Ultimately, despite innumerable failures within auto tech over the years, vehicles today are in many ways unrecognizable as a result of the development of modern technology.
While turbine-powered cars may not have contributed directly to everyday vehicles in 2021, there is no doubt that previous failures like Ford Th!nk and Uber’s self-driving program have laid the groundwork for the future’s auto tech.
Lucy Mitchell is the content manager at Current.com.au. From Sydney, Australia, Lucy specializes in all things technology-related, writing on everything from auto tech to smart homes. She loves staying up to date with industry news to bring readers well-researched, informative and accurate information to her readers.