Ford Introducing New Instrument Cluster on Fusion and Milan Hybrids to Coach Drivers on Optimizing Performance

Jose Michael

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The SmartGauge instrument cluster in “Engage” configuration. Click to enlarge.

Ford is introducing a new instrument cluster—SmartGauge with EcoGuide—on its upcoming Fusion and Milan hybrids to help drivers maximize their fuel efficiency. Ford collaborated with IDEO and Smart Design to develop the new cluster.

SmartGauge with EcoGuide uses two, high-resolution, full-color liquid crystal display (LCD) screens on either side of the analog speedometer that can be configured to show different levels of information, including fuel and battery power levels, average and instant miles-per-gallon. Growing leaves and vines can track and “reward” the driver’s efficiency.

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The SmartGauge instrument cluster in full “Empower” configuration. Click to enlarge.

Drivers can choose one of four data screens to choose the information level displayed during their drives:

  • 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 can show instant fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer, engine coolant temperature, what gear the car is in and trip data (trip fuel economy, time-elapsed fuel economy and miles to empty). The engine coolant temperature indicator turns green when engine conditions are warm enough to allow engine pull-down.

At the core of the instrument cluster’s design was an understanding that the Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) experience evolves and deepens over time and the technology needed to reflect that.

The four levels of information can be customized to fit each driver’s needs or situation. If cruising on the highway, for instance, only basic information may be desired. Once a driver moves off the highway into a city, additional information to optimize fuel economy may be desired and can be easily accessed.

Long-term fuel efficiency can be displayed in two ways—either as a traditional chart or using an innovative display that shows “growing leaves and vines” on the right side of the cluster. The more efficient a customer is, the more lush and beautiful the leaves and vines, creating a visual reward for the driver’s efforts.

Additionally, the real-time system feedback allows drivers to assess or modify their driving habits to achieve maximum fuel economy. A shutdown screen reviews important information from the latest trip, including fuel economy performance and comparative data from previous days.

Prototype testing was done in Ford’s Virtual Text Track Experiment (VIRTTEX) simulator, the industry’s largest driver distraction laboratory operated by an automaker. Test drivers were able to safely interact with the new technology as engineers gathered data and helped refine SmartGauge, aiding drivers in making informed decisions without being distracting or overwhelming.

When you’re driving, you have a second or so to look at your display. A dense display isn’t going to work. SmartGauge with EcoGuide is designed to minimize distraction caused by multiple displays. We did a lot of work to eliminate extraneous movement and create a smooth, fluid display.

—Jeff Greenberg, Ford senior technical leader

The Fusion and Milan hybrids will share a new powertrain with the Escape and Mariner hybrids that combines a 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine with a series-parallel transaxle. While the basic layout and packaging of the powertrain and related components remains for the most part unchanged from the 2005-2008 Escape component architecture, many of those components have been redesigned for improved efficiency. (Earlier post.)

The next-generation hybrid system applied in the Fusion, for example, is targeted to provide a more than 60% improvement in city cycle fuel economy over a non-hybrid I4 engine, and a more than 80% improvement over a V6 on the city cycle.

The Fusion and Milan Hybrids will be built at Ford’s Hermosillo (Mexico) Stamping and Assembly Plant and are due to arrive in dealer showrooms in the first quarter of 2009. With their introduction, Ford expects to double its annual hybrid volume and be the largest domestic producer of full hybrid vehicles in North America.

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