August 28, 2007

Nissan Fuel Economy Display

For many hybrid owners, re-learning to drive is a key part of owning a hybrid. Driving at the speed limit on the highway, accelerating and braking more gradually, and coasting as much as possible are all techniques that can push a hybrid’s high mileage even higher. In fact, the same changes in driving style can improve the gas mileage of any vehicle, even if it’s not a hybrid. But hybrids offer an important fuel economy tool that many vehicles do not: instruments that constantly remind drivers how much gasoline they are using.

Nissan recently announced its plans to include fuel economy displays in all of its vehicles. Part of the company’s larger “Nissan Green Program 2010” environmental effort, the displays are aimed at encouraging buyers of Nissan vehicles to adopt more ecologically-conscious driving habits. Nissan expects drivers of the display-equipped cars and trucks to gradually improve their driving over time, yielding an average 10% boost in fuel economy. In the United States, the first cars to include the new displays are the Nissan Altima and Infiniti G35.

Fuel economy displays are hardly sophisticated technology, nor are they a new idea. Since the gas crises of the 1970s, numerous cars and trucks have offered fuel economy information to the driver, although the gas mileage numbers were often buried deep in a multi-function display or trip computer. What makes Nissan’s plans distinct is that the fuel economy information will be front-and-center in all of its vehicles. This strategy has some risk: drivers of Nissan’s full-size pickups and SUVs may not appreciate being reminded that their vehicles get 12 MPG (or less) in city driving, and their satisfaction with the vehicles could suffer as a result.

Ultimately, time will tell whether fuel economy instrumentation really leads to more efficient driving, or whether frustrated drivers simply ignore the new displays and continue their present habits. But Nissan deserves some credit: providing the tools to increase awareness of gasoline use is a positive first step toward changing behavior.

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