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Death of the rev counter?

Date: 16 May 2007

Guy Bird is our editor-at-large and political columnist

Guy Bird on why a new device that measures actual emissions makes perfect business sense and could replace the rev counter

Never mind your car's 'official' (best case scenario/with a following wind/you'll be lucky) carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre reading. That's just for your tax band. There'll soon be a new product hitting the market that can measure your car's actual rather than theoretical CO2 by harnessing on-board diagnostic information.

It's called Eco-Log and could be yours this autumn for a few hundred quid per unit.

Now you might be asking: "That's a great development and very eco-minded, but why would I want to know my car's actual emissions when the official figure is likely to be so much better and therefore result in lower CO2-related taxes?" Good point, turkeys don't vote for Christmas if they can understand the ballot paper.

But in this ever more emissions-obsessed world a fleet that could demonstrate its real-world CO2 output - then pledge to cut it through driver improvement incentives and/or offset those emissions your firm can't avoid - could give it a major advantage in the corporate social responsibility stakes when pitching to eco-conscious clients or writing its annual sustainability report. Your fleet would soon be polluting less and saving proper money in fuel, too, as you could monitor the fuel economy and emissions so much more accurately - while still paying tax on the official figures.

Driver training

“Now you might be asking: "Why would I want to know my car's actual emissions when the official figure is likely to be so much better and therefore result in lower CO2-related taxes?" Good point, turkeys don't vote for Christmas if they can understand the ballot paper.”

Guy Bird

As this technology works through existing telematics systems you can also use it to show up the explicit emissions effect of erratic and hard-driving employees. The ones shown to be unnecessarily deepening the company's carbon footprint (and worsening fuel economy in the process) would be sent on driver training or fined, with the ones lowering it incentivised. Of course, cars have had similar end-game fuel economy devices on them in many forms for years - from 'econometers' on mid-1980s VW Passats that encouraged greener driving by indicating the load your right foot was putting on the engine, to the energy regeneration diagram screen on the Toyota Prius, or the horizontal graphic equaliser-style devices on the driver's computer display of modern Hondas fluctuating from 0-60mpg and back as the pressure of your right foot varies.

But most punters still really don't get the link between CO2 and fuel economy, so an onboard display that gave the driver an instantaneous emissions reading of what their foot was doing to the environment could be a key tool in influencing as well as recording driver behaviour, and bang home - just like real-world fuel economy calculations - that buying theoretically clean cars only makes you a potentially greener business. Drivers have to back up the technology with their deeds.

The screen on the prototype Eco-Log Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi shows exactly this, using a large Samsung computer tablet strapped to the dash, so it's highly do-able today.

Of course, making something so potentially righteous into something exciting and marketable is a tough call but it's already on the minds of car designers. One of Citroen's top designers, Mark Lloyd, recently outlined one such way to do this by replacing the excitement of pure performance measured by the rev counter with a different excitement through eco performance. In the future, integrated in-cab screens and dials could tell the driver how 'cleanly' they are driving in terms of CO2, nitrogen oxide, particulates and mpg alongside interior and exterior lighting effects that could show you, your passengers and other drivers around you, too, how you're doing. Imagine the vans coming home to the depot after a hard day's delivery: the ones glowing green would reveal their eco drivers immediately, but any emanating a blue or red light say, would tell the world of their bad emissions day.

It might seem a little far-fetched or soppy for now, but with increasing legislation for actual CO2 cuts it could be a clever marketing tool to improve driving style and win kudos and clients. After all, who really looks at, or needs a rev counter anymore?