Thursday, May 15, 2008

GM Engineers Say All Cars Should Have Gas Mileage Displays

Last week I spent some time with GM discussing their new HCCI technology. After taking their test vehicle, a Saturn Aura, for a test spin, I was very impressed with the heads up display (HUD) that kept track of whether the car was in HCCI or SI mode. Upon returning to the conference room, my first question for the GM techs was whether or not something indicating HCCI mode or gas mileage would show up on the production models of cars equipped with this technology.

I don’t know quite what I expected for an answer, but it certainly wasn’t the one I got. Paul Najt seemed to like the question, and came to the same conclusion that I’ve long had, which is that fuel economy can become like a game. Cars (like many hybrids) with fuel economy displays were mentioned, and some in the room even commented that they believed the knowledge would automatically make people try to get better fuel economy.

More after the break!

I agreed heartily, but I didn’t expect the final answer: “It’s ultimately a marketing decision.” While this makes sense, don’t you think that some control should be left in the hands of the engineers? I mean, GM is asking their people to design a fuel efficient engine to get people through this gas crunch and into the future while still being economically viable, but it’s not the engineers that get to decide if a $10 piece of electronics will be part of that effort?

While I was there I was also told by an engineer who’d recently moved to the US from Germany that in the US people sometimes drive cars that are plain “unnecessary.” Coming from Germany, he and his family were used to a market for much smaller cars, one that GM and its Opel brand is a part of. However, it seems that globally General Motors is in the business of selling what people want, and not necessarily what people need. This mentality is certainly understandable from a business perspective, but I implore GM to consider that if marketing research shows that people don’t want fuel economy displays, it’s because they don’t know how much the feedback could improve their gas mileage.

Seeing that this is one of the things that makes the Prius so popular, and something that other manufacturers are phasing in, I hope GM pushes on with it. Do you think they will, or are ye of little faith (as I sometimes, admittedly, am)?

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