GM Engineers Say All Cars Should Have Gas Mileage Displays

by Benjamin Jones on May 14, 2008

DIY Fuel Economy Gauge - MPGuino

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)?

Discuss fuel economy instrumentation in the EcoModder forum.

If you liked this post, sign up for out RSS Feed for automatic updates.

Popularity: 3% [?]


1 James May 14, 2008 at 6:18 pm

You can tell them that I want a MPG display and cars that do much better than the ones that get 30 something MPGs that they like to show off as being fuel efficient.

2 gmguy May 14, 2008 at 10:57 pm

From your post, it doesn’t seem like any of the engineers said all cars should have displays but that it was something you inferred from their statements. It sounds like they just commented on how peoples behavior might change if provided with fuel economy information.

In terms of engineers having a say, it depends on the company. Honda and Audi as companies tend to give the engineers more weight over the final product. GM tends to be driven by acountants.

One thing you are implying in the article is that marketing will determine that this feature will not be included. Marketing isn’t just about asking people what they want and doing what they say. Its well known that people will say one thing in a marketing survey and do another when faced with the actual choice. Most likely consumers would be given a car with a display and asked for their feedback, whether they found it helpful/confusing etc. If a lot of people like actually driving a car with it, then it will of into the final product.

3 john doe May 15, 2008 at 12:32 am

i thought all current model cars did? hell, my o6 ford falcon has it….. the last couple of rental cars – holdens, mitsubishis etc had it, my work toyota has it….

4 Anonymous May 15, 2008 at 12:46 am

I agree with the engineers!

I live in the UK and have a 2 litre Ford Mondeo with a fuel computer. It’s made me realise that changing my style of driving just slightly results in far better mpg. For example just seeing the ‘instant’ mpg reading drop to 4mpg when you use full throttle up a hill is enough to make you think “do I really need full throttle here?” and back off resulting in 15 or better mpg. Or seeing that going just 5mph slower on the motorway results in 5mpg better fuel consumption while making best part of no difference to journey time.
It all adds up and with a bit of sensible driving I average over a tank a very real 36mp[UK]g out of it (43mp[US]g).

5 Dh May 15, 2008 at 1:40 am

This is certainly true that in US people use cars which they like due to its power, speed (acceleration) & looks but not the mileage. Public transportation is hardly seen and used. People do not share cars even with family members. This mentality, the disregard for fuel economy & fuel saving, should change first. GM & others will automatically follow the public demand for fuel economy. I have seen 165+mpg(70kmpl) motorbikes and 50+mpg(22kmpl) cars. Average American unnecessarily pays for the extra power engine. These powerful engines in everyday routine can clock 120+mph speed, but is this extra power necessary when the road have speed limits of 65-70mph maximum? Even a half of that power can drive the car above 70mph, then why invest in such cars, just to get a few seconds acceleration ahead of others while it consumes a hell of gas? Look at the market and all you see first is power and acceleration 0-60mph in 4-5 sec. Soon this will change. Gas used to be in cents, its not anymore. Gas prices are going to rise each day, but so should efficiency of engines & mileage.

6 Luciano Elias May 15, 2008 at 2:31 am

I left he corporate world almost 2 years ago and I don’t look back. You will find that ridiculous situations like this happen all the time. Everyone has their own agenda, and most of the time it doesn’t include what’s best to consumers, or the world for that matter… It’s frustrating and I’m glad now I’m focused on giving my small contribution on a daily basis. (like when I drive my wife’s Acura using the fuel mileage gauge to save gas…) 🙂

7 Bob May 15, 2008 at 3:17 am

They should install an electric mesh in the seat that delivers a shock to the tush. The more throttle used the more current that goes through the mesh. That’s about the only thing that would work on Americans.

8 Mark Gillan May 15, 2008 at 4:15 am

This would be a brilliant solution. I recently drove my friend’s Saab and had a fun time trying to ‘beat’ the gas gauge for optimum mileage.

Your thought is very true. If we all could see how ineffinciently we were driving, ineviatbly this would train us to drive better.

Keep up the good work.


9 beager May 15, 2008 at 4:59 am

Marketing will always be making the decisions. As unfortunate as that is in light of such a useful technology, just about any company will reserve all the thinking for marketing, and all the doing for engineering.

10 admin May 15, 2008 at 6:48 am

gmguy –

Thanks for your comment. I may be remembering incorrectly, but I got the impression that the people I talked to thought it was a good idea.

They also told me something like “marketing will decide that,” so that’s what I’m reporting. I just find it slightly amiss that while other manufacturers like Toyota and Nissan are pushing ahead with universal gas mileage displays, GM is lagging behind.

Thanks again for the comments!

11 KBW May 15, 2008 at 8:14 am

Instead, have the car requrie you to enter what you just paid for the fillup. With the sensors requried for an MPG display it already knows how much gas you put in. Now it can display either a $/hours dispaly or a taxi meter display.
Forget miles per gallon, show me the money.

12 Adam Pieniazek May 15, 2008 at 8:24 am

Why not just sell the display as an add-on/optional feature? Is it really that tough? Or hey GM, how about targeting the part of the market that for sure wants these displays. Or you can just keep producing the same cookie-cutter cars everyone in Detroit does and keep wondering why they’re falling behind the rest of the world.

13 Jim C May 15, 2008 at 8:41 am

My 2007 Honda Pilot that I bought specifically with the 2WD for better gas mileage over the AWD plus all the bells and whistles doesn’t have it and I wished it did.

14 Satoru May 15, 2008 at 8:41 am

I think the problem for GM is that the ‘game’ you describe is one they are going to lose. They don’t want you to know your fuel consumption, because if you did, you’d ditch your car for a Prius. It would also allow you to more easily compare fuel consumption between brands.

15 Jay Derrick May 15, 2008 at 8:49 am

It’s hard to imagine that anyone is surprised that something so inexpensive, that could make a huge impact on the way people drive, is towards the very end of GM’s list of priorities.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. GM is reaping what they sowed when they cancelled the EV1. They went from being a world-leader in electric cars to being in the dark, in the middle of nowhere, without a clue. Oh, what a difference a decade makes.

16 Chuck May 15, 2008 at 9:05 am

You can add a Scan Gauge that will tell you your current mileage and an absolute ton more info about the operating environment of your vehicle. (Including speed, mpg for that day or that tank, coolant temp, intake air temp, engine load, etc.)
The price seems to be $169.
I have one for my Civic and really enjoy it. Plugs right into the diagnostic port of any car made after 1996. No cutting or wiring needed and you can move it from car to car as you so desire. Here is the web site:

17 Jonathan May 15, 2008 at 9:11 am

I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the reasons as to NOT include the display would be that it could expose the advertised MPG ratings as false, or at least misleading.

18 Steve May 15, 2008 at 9:14 am

My 1989 Mercury Grand Marquis had a gas mileage gauge.

I don’t know why all cars don’t have them now. They don’t even need to be separate gauges. They could share a display with the odometer or clock, so you don’t have to see your MPG if you don’t want to. That way you have the option to know, but if you drive something like an Escalade, you won’t have to get depressed watching your abysmal gas mileage.

19 Andy May 15, 2008 at 9:18 am

Engineers fix problems, tell it like it is. Marketing creates problems, tells it like it would be nice to be.

20 Gregor May 15, 2008 at 9:36 am

All cars should have two mileage displays: a small one on the dash and a large one on the rear window, facing out.

21 Chuck May 15, 2008 at 9:43 am

Couldn’t agree more, sure is a great addon. I wonder if they could also incorporate the efficiency of fuel burnt (incomplete vs complete) for different driving patterns as well. May be that will also make people aware of how much they’re polluting the environment while driving and hopefully encourages people to shift to cleaner fuels 🙂

22 Ren May 15, 2008 at 11:09 am

It’s true, it would help a lot. It’s so easy you can even add it RIGHT now to any car. Check out for example. Works on any car made after 1996. No I have no connection to this company other than that I bought this product and it works great.

23 fiatlux May 16, 2008 at 12:00 pm

This makes absolute sense. It would be nice to know how much fuel is being consumed and how much it is costing me for my commute or trip to the grocery store. This should be mandated on every new car manufactured.

24 ej00807 May 16, 2008 at 1:29 pm

Should have been a government mandate years ago as it directly impact environmental emisions and encourages fuel savings.

Another safety mandate to ask GM engineers about what they think of adding tire inflation monitoring. This can be done easily with the tilt balance sensors already built into stability control systems and can prevent many yearly deaths cause by blow-outs and also help to prevent wasted fuel.

In general, I don’t support mandates or federal interference with business. But lets face it. Had we not done it, GM would likely still be making cas without seatbelts.

Consumers aren’t going to spend on retrofiting for what industry has neglected.

25 Eric May 17, 2008 at 10:27 am

I own a 04 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP(GM Product) that has a gas mileage guage from the factory. Since I have started trying to “beat” it I have increased my fuel economy about 20%. I have went from 21-22mpg to 26mpg(Car is supercharged so it does not get great mileage to start). I think that this technology is very handy and that it should be mandatory in all vehicles in the US. It displays real time and average MPG and I find myself regularly switching between them to get the best mileage. It very rewarding both monetarily and psychologically to keep trying to outdo my previous mileage.

26 Ben May 17, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Yes the scan gauge is very nice, well worth the price!

27 Bob May 18, 2008 at 12:15 pm

If your vehicle is newer than 1996 your more than likely have an on board computer which has the ability to display your MPG plus a lot more data….buy a Scan Guage….plug it in an go….I use one on my 1997 Land Cruiser

28 doug l May 19, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Whatever..the entire debate about gas mileage is about to become moot when the we enter the age of autonomous automobiles which we will likely rent or lease or simply hire to showup and take us where we want to go and be done with ’em. The entire notion of people, and their problems and their cell phones, being in controll of a half ton of metal filled with toxic explosives driving at lethals speeds on public infrastructure is surely an aberration of the times in which we live. Bring on the autonomous eggs!

29 Dh May 19, 2008 at 3:36 pm

Installing any gauge and knowing the mpg is not the real problem. The root of the problem is the technology used in cars by GM (and many others). I just checked a GM website for vehicles, and on the very front page, there is an advertisement:

Power Player: The First-Ever 2008 Pontiac G8
– With 361hp and 385 lb-ft of
torque, the first-ever Pontiac G8
GT is the most powerful car under

Do you really need a 361hp/385 lb-ft torque car to drive on a city & highway road? Gas prices are going up and still these marketing guys in GM do not understand what people actually need???

We all know a powerful engine compromises the mileage, a bigger rim (wider tires) reduces mileage, a four wheel drive vehicle gives less mileage even on highways compared to a 2 wheel driven vehicle.

But people here seem to be engaged in talking about gauges..

If you have even a chicken brain, and a calculator(if at all you are poor in maths), all cars in this world currently come with a odometer that displays the distance traveled and you know how much gas you filled. Only an american GM mindset will talk about installing new gauge. How much time does it take to do 2 subtractions & a division? less than the time your own fart will take to reach your own senses!

30 Uncle B June 14, 2008 at 10:36 am

GM, Ford and Chryco, the big three, have been shaken to their roots by what they know about Chinese cars. Each company is trying disparately to diversify and get out of the way of the slaughter that is coming from the Asian countries to their industry here in America. On recent visit to China a relative of mine told of roomy, economical, knock-off cars that sell for a tenth of what we pay for domestic cars. These cars get much better mileage, are much stronger by design and are supposed to last a much longer time than ours. They will be hitting our shores very soon, try one you’ll like it! See you in the 1930s GM, ’cause that’s where you’re lost!

31 Unforgiven October 1, 2008 at 6:33 pm

Only vehicle I have had such an economy/fuel tracking gauge on it was a 90 Plymouth Acclaim. Loved the instant and the average economy and it did help with my overall driving style. Currently it seems that many American vehicles only are putting such things in the top of the line entries, instead of offering on all trims.

32 Rick November 28, 2008 at 3:05 pm

You talk about a Heads Up Display (HUD) – you are confusing a “Piece of Advice” or “Heads-Up” with the HUD which is a Head Up Display – one head! Originally a fighter pilot’s head. Only one head can see the display – not heads!

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 4 trackbacks }