Goodbye glorious gauges

Classic gauges from VDO. Photo: VDO
Classic gauges from VDO. Photo: VDO

Classic gauges from VDO. Photo: VDO

Do you get a glow of satisfaction from studying a dashboard full of iconic round gauges, with speedo, rev-counter, fuel gauge and the like lined up in their serried ranks?

If so, enjoy those products, traditionally emblazoned Smiths, VDO or Jaeger, whilst you can, for they are rapidly being made obsolete by the onward march of digital dashboards. Every new model being introduced, whether from a mainstream manufacturer such as Peugeot or the more exalted ranks such as Jaguar, proudly promotes their latest multi-function display screen, either replacing the traditional instrument cluster or the centre console, or increasingly both. These innovations are proudly promoted variously as user-friendly, giving the driver more choice, simplifying life for the driver, or any one of a raft of other marketing declarations.

Do not be fooled though! Whilst manufacturers doubtless do genuinely believe that some of the innovative features of these screens are worthwhile, the key reason for them is saving the manufacturer money! Just think about it: every single automotive condition monitored by a conventional round gauge needs a sensor, whether to detect vehicle speed, engine speed, coolant temperature or whatever. Nowadays, the sensor then provides an electrical signal to the gauge, where it needs to be converted back into a mechanical movement.

How much simpler life is for the manufacturer if he does not need to convert that signal back into mechanical form but can just squirt the signal straight into a tablet-style display screen at the cost of no more than a few lines of computer code. Not only that, but you can then squirt as many other signals as you want into exactly the same display screen which probably cost about the same to the manufacturer as just one traditional gauge, and certainly far less than the complex instrument binnacles that we have become used to!

Jaguar Land Rovers screen - note how the mph graduations on the speedo are only shown in the vicinity of the needle - neat or what! Photo: AG

Jaguar Land Rovers screen – note how the mph graduations on the speedo are only shown in the vicinity of the needle – neat or what! Photo: AG

That’s not to say that display screens are not good, most of them are, damn good. My personal favourite is the Jaguar speedo screen which declutters the simulated round speedo by having the graduation detail more pronounced around the needle position and fading out further away, simplifying the display yet making it easier to read.

The 3rd generation Audi TT screen, with its selector by the drivers right hand. Photo: AG

The 3rd generation Audi TT screen, with its selector by the drivers right hand. Photo: AG

The latest Audi TT display is pretty impressive as well, although the one which takes some beating, for sheer size if nothing else is the massive centre console screen on the Tesla model S which provides information on everything you can think of, and many more things besides. So if you need to know how much electrical juice is flowing at the same time as looking at the reversing camera, at the same time as…………….well, you get my drift.

The massive Tesla screen. Outstanding, or information overload - you decide! Photo: AG

The massive Tesla screen. Outstanding, or information overload – you decide! Photo: AG

If information overload is alive & well in the Tesla, pointless info is equally available elsewhere. The current Golf for example features a lap timer embodied in the screen on certain models – when was the last time you needed one of them on the M25?

The good news in all of this is that you can, usually, set the screen up to display exactly the information you need, albeit only usually after you have graduated with an honours degree from the University of Car Handbook Studies.

Just remember, next time you look at one of these digital displays – it’s not there for your benefit, it’s so the manufacturer can make a few more quid!

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