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Click on the SmartGauge empower display for a high res gallery

A few months ago, Ford unveiled the new eco-friendly instrument cluster called the SmartGauge in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids. Since there's no new car to highlight right now, Ford though it'd be a good time to give the world a bit of history on how the SmartGauge was developed.

To make those famous leaves appear when the car is driven in an efficient manner, Ford worked with Johnson Controls as well as IDEO and Smart Design. IDEO helped Ford observe people and found out how they measure efficiency. We know also know that it was Ford graphic designer George Macon who came up with the idea to use leaves on the LCD screen, connecting the driving experience with Ford's hybrid logo on the back of the vehicle. More importantly, Ford discovered - like other automakers - that with instant fuel economy information at their fingertips, drivers drove more efficiently. If you want to learn more, there's a press release after the jump, or you can head over to the nearest Fusion or Milan and use the SmartGauge's tutorial mode.

[Source: Ford]

PRESS RELEASE:

DEVELOPMENT OF FORD'S INNOVATIVE SMARTGAUGE DRIVEN BY CONSUMER INPUT, PARTNER COLLABORATION

  • SmartGaugeTM with EcoGuide is a unique digital instrument cluster designed to coach Ford hybrid owners to maximize fuel efficiency
  • Leading suppliers and design firms helped Ford researchers, designers and engineers create the breakthrough car/driver interface
  • Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids are the first production cars to have "self-help" capability built into the cluster

DEARBORN, March 25, 2009 – Praised by Motor Trend magazine as a "brilliant interactive creation," Ford's SmartGaugeTM with EcoGuide digital instrument cluster puts the automaker in the driver's seat of an important new technology trend in hybrid electric vehicles. This innovative feature uses instantaneous power and fuel consumption data to coach owners of the new 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids to drive more fuel efficiently.

Ford researchers, designers and engineers collaborated with IDEO and Smart Design, two world leaders in helping consumers connect with technology, as well as technology supplier Johnson Controls to design and develop the unique instrument cluster.

SmartGauge's high resolution, full-color liquid crystal display (LCD) screens can be configured by the driver to show different levels of information, including fuel and battery power levels, as well as average and instant miles-per-gallon. Taking a design cue from Ford's hybrid leaf logo, Ford graphic designer George Macon developed an animation of growing leaves and vines that tracks and rewards the driver's efficiency.

"No other automaker is leveraging LCD technology in the cluster to the extent that we do," said Paul Mascarenas, vice president, Engineering, Ford Global Product Development. "It is much more interactive and integral to the whole driving experience."

In fact, the SmartGauge cluster became an unexpected competition for Ford's test subjects, who tried to outperform each other and themselves in fuel efficiency.

Consumer input in design process
Design research and rapid prototyping proved critical to the development of the SmartGauge. The Ford SmartGauge team, in close collaboration with IDEO, observed dozens of consumers in their homes, cars, and communities to gain insight into how people measured efficiency in different areas of their lives. Some were hybrid car owners, but many were not. They spoke with people who live in "green" homes and even met with a calorie-counting tri-athlete, who described his ideal coach as one that offers positive encouragement.

"Every person the team talked to helped us better understand how people interact with their vehicles and what kinds of features they wanted," said Randal Visintainer, executive director, Research and Advanced Engineering. The idea of the car coaching the driver became a core principle during our early prototyping that fed directly into the final product."

Early on, SmartGauge prototypes included multiple levels of cluster information in order to accommodate the varying information needs of different kinds of customers, ranging from hybrid newcomers to "hypermilers." In the final design, drivers can choose one of four data screens, including:

* Inform: Fuel level and battery charge status
* Enlighten: Adds electric vehicle mode indicator and tachometer
* Engage: Adds engine output power and battery output power
* Empower: Adds power to wheels, engine pull-up threshold and accessory power consumption

All levels are customizable to show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer, engine coolant temperature, what gear the car is in and trip data, including trip fuel economy, long-term fuel economy and miles to empty. And while most competitive vehicles have some of this information in the center stack, Ford has made it user friendly and right in front of the driver where they want it.

Two other user-friendly elements are SmartGauge's dealership demo mode, which offers a quick overview of the cluster's benefits to prospective buyers, and the owner tutorial mode, which is a more in-depth look at its features and functions. Johnson Controls helped design the demo and tutorial as well as SmartGauge's "greeting" sequence. Fusion and Milan are the first production cars to have "self-help" capability built into the cluster.

Unconventional thinking drives development
To prepare a prototype for testing, the team used aviation cockpit engineering software, because it offers the best combination of design and simulation capability.

The SmartGauge team also used Ford's state-of-the-art advanced driving simulator, Virtual Test Track Experiment (VIRTTEX), to "test drive" a virtual hybrid in realistic digital environments and show the technology at scale. VIRTTEX testing also helped the team identify design issues fast and demonstrate the technology to Ford decision makers.

After all the work with design partners and testing at VIRTTEX, Ford's design and release engineers readied the cluster for production.

"Watching this technology come together was one of the most exciting things I've ever seen at Ford," said Mascarenas. "Everyone really was feeding off each other to push the bar. We knew we had the ability to take the instrument cluster to where no other automaker has taken it before – and we already have strong ideas about where to take it in its next generation."

###

About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 213,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company's wholly owned automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Volvo. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit www.ford.com.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 11 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      It amazes me that Ford went to all the effort to make this wonderfully modern guage cluster (BTW i think it is past time we have things like this especially in performance cars where you do care about other data). But then they take a steering wheel from the parts bin and make the rest of the interior look like its 10 years old. Get on the same page while designing the car please.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Unfortunately, Ford got it backwards.
      The only thing that cars produce that causes leaves to grow is CO2.
      Any intelligent person knows that CO2 is good for plants and makes them grow.
      Intelligent people also do their homework whenever they have dogma shoved at them like the Global Warming Hoax and anyone willing to do their homework will quickly find that real scientists are proving that CO2 has no effect on global temperature.
      So to be more accurate, Ford should reverse the driver for the gauge (harder driving = more CO2 and more leaves) or change the leaves to dollar signs (easier driving = more money saved).
        • 5 Years Ago
        The great thing about the scientific community is that, contrary to what a lot of people think, it encourages discourse and the development of counter-theories to just about everything.

        I once had a guy ask me why there was such collusion among the scientific community regarding, for example, evolution (and, remembering that this was 5 years ago, climate change); His impression was that scientists go along to get along, with these theories being held together by this herd mentality.

        The fact is that academia is fueled by system that continually forces alternate theories by scientists, whether it's to publish for the sake of getting tenure or to earn grants for further study. No scientist makes a name, a career for him/herself by agreeing to what came before.

        Climate change is a theory that has gained an almost unprecedented amount of traction, at least among theories that are not absolutely taken as fact (such as the world being round). The alternate theories that climate change is not happening or that human activity has no or minute bearing on it tend to be either attempts to take another perspective on the subject matter or, frankly, come from programs that are funded by entities that have a vested interest.

        It sounds like your suggestion is that CO2 has no bearing on climate change (but it doesn't seem to me that you're suggesting that it's not happening). I've heard a variation on this with a friend who thinks that human impact is so minute that we couldn't possibly be the reason it's happening.

        A balance is struck at a very specific and exact relationship between two attributes or entities; It takes very little variation from that specific and exact relationship to throw the balance wildly off. It, in fact, makes little difference if you vary by a little or a lot; The result is the same, in absolute terms, with the difference PERHAPS being the rate of catastrophe (both sides of the balance collapsing or falling).

        Because of this, I would ask if it's worth it to ignore either humankind's impact on the climate or CO2 production's role in climate change... I would agree that there are a multitude of other factors that could be playing a role, some of which are almost completely out of our hands (we're not god, after all) but I would suggest that to treat this issue as if it's either all or nothing in certainty (that is, that either we do or don't and, therefore if there's any doubt, we should not do anything to ease climate change) is wrong.

        I work in the automotive industry, have been involved in motorsports and introduction of some extremely enthusiast-oriented cars, but I don't think addressing emissions or fuel supply is automatically counter to anything that I do. In fact, I think that, more than merely going along with regulatory pressure to force change, the automotive industry has an incredible role in making new generation of products work better than the current ones, make them sexy & compelling as all hell, and convince people to change behaviors (in the least painful/ most enjoyable ways possible). This is the industry, after all, that convinced people in the most metropolitan areas possible that SUVs made sense for dropping kids off at school... The emergence of Tesla's cars (as much as the company seems to teeter), Fisker (I mean, the guy designed some of the sexiest GTs I can think of and now does this) and others, suggests that this recognition of duty & role is coming...
      • 5 Years Ago
      What a god awful looking speedometer, I can hear the German's laughing!
      • 5 Years Ago
      "Ford though it'd be a good time"

      though - > thought
      • 5 Years Ago
      This will indeed change drivers' habits. I had an "on board computer" in my 1987(!) BMW with real-time MPG readout, and it changed how I drove. A couple I know has a pair of Priuses, and they're positively influenced by the readout, as well.

      Yes, it's frustrating that people need to have the numbers stuck in their face constantly before they learn how to drive more efficiently (and I was in that camp once), but it's a relatively cheap change to the vehicle and it works, so I'm not going to complain.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You didn't even need a fancy BMW. My friend had it in her 1985 Mercury Cougar (nice ride). I'm sure others had it as well. It's funny how things like that go away and then come back. It's even funnier that in 2009, the dang things aren't accurate (they're optimistic).

        I agree that making people more aware will change their driving habits.
      AE86
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is a worthless gimmick.

      They need to spend time on making better things...not worthless light up gauges.

      Honest...when your driving how much time do you spend reading your gauges but to look at gas and mph reading??



        • 5 Years Ago
        @AE86
        I'd disagree about it being worthless. When I got my Civic Hybrid years ago my driving style was fast off of every light, on the gas until the next light and then quick brake to stop.

        After watching the real time guage I discovered that reasonable acceleration away from lights, using a lot of cruise... even for just short 1 mile stretches and to start coasting when the up coming light is red (instead of waiting until the last moment to stop) all really helped to boost my fuel economy.

        Now I reset my MPG meter every morning and on my daily commute I can see how well I'm doing based on it's display. Good days and I get well over 50. Bad days, like if I'm late for work and driving in more of a hurry, and I'm mid 40's or even less.

        So, yes, leaves and such might be gimmicks but chances are they will still help you drive better and save gas.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @AE86
        Yeah! And we don't want no fancy-schmancy seats, neither. Just a wooden chair and a rope for a seatbelt will do. In fact, a log bolted to the floor is plenty comfortable. Jethro and granny agree.