Instrument clusters go digital

Instrument clusters go digital

Market news |
By eeNews Europe

By 2018, almost 7 million vehicles will be equipped with purely electronic instrument clusters, market researcher IMS predicts. But electronic instrument clusters with their context-sensitive displays won’t remain the only major change – also head-up displays, in earlier days a feature restricted to jet fighters and in the present to luxury cars, are conquering the drivers’ seat. IMS believes that by 2018, drivers in more than 3.5 million vehicles will have a head-up display to read speed and other information. The market for these systems will add up to $2.5 billion.

The IMS market researchers categorize the instrument clusters into three groups: Analog, hybrid, and digital. Analog, obviously, is the classic electro mechanic instrument panel containing a physical dial and needle for the conventional instruments such as speedometer or rev counter. A completely digital cluster displays all these classical instruments on a TFT-LCD, LCD or VFD screen. Such clusters can be programmed to display the appropriate selection of virtual instruments according to the driving situation or to the driver’s preferences. Hybrid clusters are a combination of analog and digital cluster, for example with two mechanical instruments and a small LCD screen for the trip computer between these two.

IMS now believes that the economical and environmental constraints upon engine design are the driving forces for the introduction of electronic instrument clusters since interior gains more attention from OEMs as a way to differentiate. In this context, a digital instrument cluster enabling personalization is becoming a key selling point. “OEMs are moving towards purely digital instrument clusters for a few reasons” explains IMS Research automotive market analyst Ben Scott. “With most OEMs releasing an HEV/EV in the near future, a reconfigurable digital instrument is very appealing. Information on battery charge, distance until next charge, and other driver information can easily be displayed”, Scott adds. Reconfigurability of these clusters is an interesting feature, but ultimately the OEM will determine how much the driver can customize the display. Although purely digital instrument clusters are becoming more popular, hybrid instrument clusters currently make up 90% of the market.

Another driving force is consumer trends. Smartphone and tablet PC ownership is increasing and there is the opportunity to integrate these devices to drive configurable instrument clusters. In a recent IMS Research consumer survey, ‘Connected Head Units – Consumer Survey – 2011 Edition’, it was found that the majority of respondents would prefer to use their smartphone as the HMI for infotainment. However, for both instrumentation and infotainment there will be definite safety implications involved and serious consideration should be given as to how these devices will display information.

Head-up displays (HUDs) have, for a long time, been associated with the premium end of the car market, but this could change. “We should see HUDs penetrating the middle car segment market in the near future”, Scott adds. HUDs are becoming less expensive, partly because of new head-up display technology entering the market from companies like Nippon Seiki, Continental AG and Johnson Controls. Johnson Controls is offering a ‘combined head-up display’ which projects information on to a fully integrated transparent screen in the driver’s field of vision. This approach to the HUD is both cost effective and will help bring this technology to the volume car segments, the analyst says. 


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