Hybrid drivetrains are all the rage among the buying public, being fitted to everything from economy sedans to luxurious SUVs, but it's still the driver's input that can have the most dramatic effect on fuel economy. That's why Ford has developed its SmartGauge technology, designed to help drivers learn how to maximize fuel efficiency with a few simple techniques while providing direct, in-car feedback.

The gauge itself is composed of two high-resolution full-color 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. As the driver grows more and more efficient, the gauge grows a display of leaves and vines as a sort of visual reward.

“SmartGauge with EcoGuide gives the customer real-world feedback to make the most of their hybrids,” said Gil Portalatin, Hybrid Applications Manager. “Unique to Ford and Mercury hybrid sedans, this instrument cluster acts as a good ‘coach,’ engaging drivers real-time to help them achieve maximum fuel economy.”

Ford sees the displayed information available to the driver as falling into four categories: Inform, Enlighten, Engage and Empower. The first, Inform, gives basic information such as fuel level and battery charge status. The second, Enlighten, lets the driver know when electric vehicle (EV) mode is active and gives a tachometer display for the combustion engine. The third, Engage, describes engine and battery output power to get the driver thinking about how much energy is being used, while the fourth, Empower, gives power-to-wheels, engine pull-up threshold and accessory power consumption, allowing the driver to fine-tune their driving style and feature usage to maximize efficiency.

At all times a basic display of instantaneous fuel economy, fuel economy history, odometer and engine coolant temperature are available, as is the car's currently engaged gear and trip data. All of this information might seem a bit much to take in - safely - while at the wheel, but Ford's engineers have spent a lot of effort getting the display to be quickly recognizable once the driver is up to speed on its features.

The display will first be available on the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids, which go into production at the company's Hermosillo, Mexico facility soon and are due to arrive on showroom floors by the first quarter of 2009.