Many of today’s hybrid drivers keep a close eye on the fuel economy reading on the dashboard. Instantaneous MPG readings provide essential feedback about the effects of toes tapping on the accelerator, extended stretches of coasting, and easing on the brakes.
But the new generation of fuel efficiency dashboard displays takes hybrid geekiness to a new level—turning drivers into game players on wheels.
The Japanese version of the new Honda Insight will use a color meter—think mood ring for MPG—that displays a green color when fuel-efficient driving is being achieved, a blue-green color for relatively fuel-efficient driving, and a blue color when fuel economy is thrown out the window during bursts of acceleration or when slamming on the brakes.
Another part of the Honda Insight screen has green leaves growing over time as fuel efficiency improves. Again, this will only be found in the Japanese version for now. However, Ford’s “SmartGuage with EcoGuide,” to be used in the new Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid due out in Spring 2009, uses a similar visual “organic” metaphor: growing vines to indicate optimal driving behavior. Ford takes it a step further by providing four levels of information that can be customized to fit each driver’s situation. For example, if you are cruising on the highway, only basic information may be displayed. But if you move from highway to city driving, additional information to optimize fuel economy can be accessed on the dashboard—or by voice.
Honda’s system—called Ecological Drive Assist System (EDAS)—allows drivers to see fuel economy for the past three trips. When combined with Honda’s InterNavi System, the display can offer suggestions for improving efficiency based on a driver history. Nissan’s telematic program, CARWINGS, was one of the first to plan for advanced systems to provide driver feedback regarding fuel efficiency. In August 2007, Nissan announced that all future new models will be equipped with a fuel efficiency gauge to give drivers more information on how their driving style directly relates to fuel economy. The company predicts it could “lead to an average 10 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.” The gauge provides the driver with both instant fuel-efficiency and average efficiency readings.
Toyota was not far behind, when in January 2008, it promised to install hybrid-like fuel indicators on many vehicles—hybrid or not. “We’re making this move because we’ve found that when hybrid drivers use their hybrid vehicle system indicators, their driving habits change as the system provides feedback on efficiency. And as driving habits change, drivers could experience estimated improvements of from 5 percent to 10 percent in fuel economy.” Toyota plans to include “Eco Driving Indicators” on next-generation Toyota, Lexus and Scion models, but has not yet released photos or drawings.
As the competition heats up to produce the must useful and slickest MPG display, carmakers will need to determine just how much information can be crammed into one dashboard—when after all, drivers should mostly have their eyes on the road. “When you’re driving, you have a second or so to look at your display,” said Jeff Greenberg, senior technical leader at Ford. “A dense display isn’t going to work. SmartGauge with EcoGuide is designed to minimize distraction.”