Instrument clusters go digital

November 17, 2011 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Instrument clusters with electronic displays are increasingly supplanting electromechanical pointer instruments. The trend is taking up speed, says market research company IMS.

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