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Making Fuel Consumption Visible
Erica Barnett, 15 Jan 08

We've written before about the benefits of making the invisible visible. To name a few examples: Disappearing-pattern tiles, Flower Lamps, and Erratic Objects that reflect in their forms how much energy is being used in the home; phone-, television-, and computer-based "energy dashboards" that give homeowners real-time information about their energy consumption; and mobile bathing systems that require users to adjust the amount of water used to the number of plants feeding off wastewater from the system. Toyota's Hybrid Vehicle System Indicator, standard equipment on all hybrid gas-electric Priuses, serves a similar purpose; it lets the driver know exactly how much gas they're using or preserving, helping them drive effeciently (let up on the gas, and you charge the battery; rev the engine, and you waste fuel). The system maximizes driving efficiency by letting drivers know how much fuel they're using, and adjust their driving style accordingly; having driven plenty of hybrids, I can tell you that it quickly becomes a game to see how much fuel you can conserve (then again, maybe I'm just a nerd.)

Last week, Toyota announced that in addition to the Prius indicator, it would make efficiency monitors standard equipment on virtually all new Toyota, Lexus, and Scion vehicles, including non-hybrid models. According to Toyota, the meter, rechristened the Eco Driving Indicator, would "indicate the throttle opening and whether the driver is driving efficiently" and would include "an Eco Lamp that would illuminate if the driver drives efficiently enough to stay within the 'Eco Zone,' and that would, for manual-transmission-equipped vehicles, illuminate at the optimal shift point. Finally, it would include an Average Fuel Consumption Meter to provide the average fuel-economy number since the vehicle’s last fueling or system reset."

What sounds like a lot of eco-jargon is actually great news for Toyota buyers: The more drivers know about their fuel consumption and driving efficiency, the more likely they are to drive in a way that wastes less fuel and is better for the environment. It’s another way of making the invisible visible. Hopefully, other auto manufacturers will see the promise in Toyota’s decision and follow suit.

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Another aspect to this debate is how we can focus on getting this "pared down to the basics car" into the developed economies where more often than not, a car like this is all that is needed. Perhaps, the Tata Nano could have a net benefit in this way

Posted by: Damon Beeby on 17 Jan 08

Sorry, that comment was meant for the Tata Nano article.

Posted by: Damon Beeby on 17 Jan 08

I've had my Prius for about 3 months now and continue to play the "optimizing game." I can't re-assure you about the nerdom though, as I definitely qualify =). Glad to hear that Toyota will be making sure all those Tacoma drivers know just how inefficient they are.

Posted by: Stephen A. Fuqua on 17 Jan 08

Great idea. All cars should have this. My wife and I own Mini Coopers and this feature is important. We have learned more efficient driving habits in the 6 months since purchase. Frustrating sometimes in traffic to watch the mpg shoot down to 12 or 13, but enlightening. In fact, it is like a game to see how eeficient we can become in our habits.

Posted by: Jason Chambers on 18 Jan 08



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