Instrument panels enter digital age

4:42 PM, Feb 24, 2012   |    comments
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CHICAGO -- More automakers are using digital instrument-panel displays -- more akin to video games than traditional gauges -- to jazz up models with techno-glitz.

Chrysler Group is giving its 2013 Dodge Dart -- a compact due out this summer at a starting price of $15,995 -- a digital display, with whiz-bang graphics, that lets drivers choose the information they want to see.

Dart joins a growing number of others in ditching standard instruments -- dials with needles -- that provided such basic information as speed, fuel supply and engine revolutions.

The digital thin-film transistor panels appeared first on luxury models, including ones from Mercedes-Benz, Range Rover, Jaguar and Lincoln. Though they haven't gone as far down-market as Dart before,
they now also are on some Fords, including the Explorer SUV and Fusion hybrid.

Adoption is being driven by the way they let drivers easily personalize what they see.

"It really gets down to the customization ability," said Ryan Nagode, chief of Dodge, Ram and Fiat interiors, at recent press days for the Chicago Auto Show. "It's all driven by a philosophy of (being) driver-centric."

When you start the Dart, the name slides across the screen before the "instruments" appear. Drivers can move the faux dials and digital readouts around at will. Want to see outside temperature, a compass or average fuel economy? No problem. And if an outside light burns out, an image of the car pops up showing which one needs to be replaced.

The Ford display lets drivers choose dials they see, such as a tachometer or fuel gauge. One illuminating piece of research: "Half of customers don't even know what a tachometer does," spokesman Alan Hall says. (It measures how fast the engine is turning.)

General Motors' Cadillac will have a system with even more flexibility, not only letting drivers choose what they see, but moving information back and forth from the navigation screen. It will show up first in the coming XTS and ATS models, as well as on the SRX crossover, said spokesman Scott Fosgard.

The Mercedes system on S or CL models doesn't allow drivers to move the controls around, but at night it can display the car's infrared technology that can detect pedestrians in the darkness.

By Chris Woodyard



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