Automakers around the world are spending fortunes on technologies to reduce the fuel consumption of their vehicles.
Such technologies include reduced weight, improved aerodynamics, smaller and more-efficient engines, multi-speed or continuously-variable transmissions, reduced-rolling-resistance tires and much more.
But another feature, which costs almost nothing, may be even more effective, for it has the potential to influence one of the biggest variables in the fuel economy equation – the driver.
Countless studies and tests have demonstrated that adjusting driving habits can have a bigger impact on fuel consumption than most technological solutions. The challenge is how to get drivers to make those adjustments.
One solution quite literally stared me in the face in the Mazda CX-3 that I drove for about a year. And it definitely helped reduce the amount of fuel I used.
It's the video screen that sits atop the centre-stack, illustrating everything from my telephone contact list to the radio station currently in play. And, if I chose, it reported fuel consumption, both current and past.
That's the screen I kept visible most of the time and it had a positive influence on the way I drove, as well as the amount of fuel I burned.
Such fuel-consumption readouts are not new but some are more effective than others and this one is near the top of that list. It provided not just an instantaneous fuel-consumption readout but a minute-by-minute consumption history in bar graph form for the past 10 minutes and in 10-minute increments for the past hour.
In addition, if reset at each fill-up, it illustrates the average consumption rate for each tankful.
Seeing the data in that form is hugely informative. It clearly demonstrates, for example, that fuel-consumption is sky-high during the first minute or two of operation – and longer when the temperature gets frigid.
It also shows the dramatic effects of stopping at intersections or stop lights, of trudging along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, of climbing even small grades and of hard accelerations. It's particularly enlightening about the impact of frequenting the drive-through window at Timmy's or McD's – or anywhere else.
That information is useless, of course, if the driver ignores it. But it's hard to ignore. It forced me to think about how I'm driving, creating an inadvertent feedback loop that highlights my wasteful driving habits.
I found, for example, that I often accelerate more quickly than necessary from a stop only to have to apply the brakes as I catch another vehicle. Wasting fuel in the process.
That waste becomes clearly evident when the next bar to appear on the graph sticks up well above the ones before it.
See enough of those reminders and one gets the message. Which may make such a readout the most effective fuel-saving device of all.