You know that you should drive in a fuel-efficient manner to save gasoline, but do you always know if you’re doing the best you can? Ford has made it easier with the SmartGauge, found on the Fusion Hybrid.

 

The gauge, which can be programmed into one of four levels of information, was named the winner of the 2010 Best New Green Technology by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) in February, along with Fusion’s hybrid system.

 

“We designed the cluster to coach the driver to maximize fuel efficiency,” says Sonya Nematollahi, Ford driving information engineering supervisor. “We did a lot of customer research and it came to this concept of coaching. Drivers don’t want to be preached, but like a good coach, you’re rewarding them.”

 

Drivers are rewarded by a picture of a vine, which “grows” leaves during fuel-efficient driving. If your foot is too heavy, the leaves fall off. The picture can be shut off if it’s considered too distracting, but Nematollahi says the gauge was carefully researched to avoid drawing too much attention.

 

“We used a virtual test that simulates road conditions, and customers came in and drove it,” she says.


“Through the feedback, we made changes to the gauge to make it perfect, so it won’t be distracting. We studied colours that weren’t too fatiguing or wouldn’t wash out in the sun. It was important for the information to be very clear and concise to the driver, so they could glance down quickly, see it, and get their eyes back on the road.”


Indeed, since the leaves appear in a cluster, rather than a straight line that might encourage the driver to count them, a quick glance is sufficient to judge how well you’re doing.


The gauge’s LCD screens can be programmed with incremental amounts of information. Especially useful is a gauge that shows how close the vehicle is to running solely on electricity: the driver can run more often on the battery if he or she knows exactly when to let off on the throttle.


Fuel consumption can also be tracked over a period of time.