"New" sells (well, unless you're talking about New Coke). But while marketers trumpet every car feature like it's never been seen before, many "new" features of today first appeared decades ago.
The 2013 MKZ, Lincoln's new midsize sedan arriving in dealerships this fall, won't have a lever in the center console that lets you shift between neutral, reverse, and drive. Instead, five electric pushbuttons electromechanically "shift" a conventional automatic transmission.
These buttons on the dash trigger an electric motor that physically moves cables connected to the automatic's mechanical shift mechanism. In an ordinary car, the shift lever would be connected to a console- or column-mounted shift lever.
Lincoln may be making a big deal out of the MKZ's feature, but pushbutton shifting is a century old. The idea surfaced early in the development of the automobile. Several small automakers fitted the Vulcan electromechanical gearshift systems to cars and trucks as early as 1913.
Chrysler popularized leverless shifting with the system it introduced in 1956. The pushbutton mechanism mechanically operated the automatic transmission via cables, eliminating traditional column- and console-mounted shifters. Chrysler offered pushbutton shifters on many of its cars and light trucks through 1964. Hundreds of thousands of vehicles sold in the 1950s and '60s had this feature.
Ford briefly toyed with pushbutton shifting with the Teletouch system offered on Edsel products (1957 to 59). Packard used the technology in its Touch Button Ultramatic of 1956. The more complex Ford and Packard solutions were unreliable and quickly went out of production. As a result, the technology never really caught on with the general public, so Chrysler dropped its push-button shifter too.
As a way to save fuel by building smaller engines without sacrificing performance, more manufacturers are turning to gasoline direct fuel injection. Putting the fuel injector inside the combustion chamber (compared with placing the injector upsteam of the chamber in the intake manifold) simultaneously improves efficiency and power. Direct injection is superior to traditional port fuel injection, throttle-body injection, and traditional carburetors, so it's not uncommon to hear automakers boasting about this tech.
Mercedes-Benz introduced gasoline direct injection to the automotive world in 1955 on the now-iconic 300SL. The gullwing sports car used a system developed by Bosch, still one of the biggest companies building injection systems.
By the time the 300SL hit the road, Mercedes-Benz and Bosch had more than a decade of experience with gasoline direct fuel injection. In the 1940s the companies worked together to build engines for the Nazi Luftwaffe that could operate in negative-g flying maneuvers, and a reliable gasoline direct injection system satisfied this demand. And in diesel engines, direct injection goes back even further—to the 1920s.
But fuel injection controls of the 1950s weren't sufficiently well developed for direct injection technology to take off. Furthermore, it was a lot cheaper and simpler to use a carburetor.