Manufacturing vehicles for both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive markets adds cost and complexity for automakers, but a new Volvo design could eliminate that.

In September, the Swedish automaker submitted an application to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for a steering wheel that slides from left to right.

First spotted by Autoblog on Monday, the application describes a steering wheel and instrument cluster mounted on rails running the width of the dashboard. That's similar to the layout used by the Mercedes-Benz Unimog, but Volvo's design uses drive-by-wire technology, meaning there is no mechanical connection between the steering wheel and the road.

A sliding steering wheel could allow Volvo to sell cars in both left-hand- and right-hand-drive markets without modifications. It could even allow drivers to sit in the center of the car—as in a McLaren F1 or Speedtail.

Volvo sliding steering wheel patent image

Volvo sliding steering wheel patent image

Volvo also noted in the patent application that a sliding steering wheel could give occupants more space in possible future cars with autonomous-driving capability. Theoretically, a driver could engage autonomous mode and move the steering wheel out of the way. However, this could create problems. If the driver needs to retake control, precious time will be spent moving the steering wheel back into position. Consequently, if cars are truly capable of driving themselves at all times, it's unclear if automakers will bother including steering wheels at all.

Instead of a sliding pedal box, Volvo suggested that conventional pedals could be replaced with pressure-sensitive pads, hydraulically- or pneumatically-actuated sensors, or some other setup that would allow them to be placed in both footwells. They would activate based on which side of the car the steering wheel is on.

Volvo hasn't given any indication that it plans to put something like this into production. Automakers often submit patent applications to protect ideas, whether they plan to use them or not. Meanwhile, Volvo recently began introducing a 112-mph speed limit across its range, and plans to introduce lidar systems by 2022.