Ford has planned every detail of its new Focus Electric to provide drivers with an optimal electric car experience, and it didn't forget the in-dash display. For the last year, Ford used simulators to conduct market research for its MyTouch in-dash display system. The results have helped Ford make the electric car experience easy for everyone.

The program places drivers into a virtual Focus Electric that is an exact replica of the actual car. Drivers see two 4.2-inch LCD screens on either side of the speedometer that show details on battery life, distance to a charge point, and any budget or range surplus that exists. Because the information displayed on the screens is crucial to making the Focus Electric drive successful, Ford wanted to make sure they were doing it right. "These screens are an integral part of Focus Electric and we thought the best way to make sure they would do their job is to have people come in and try them out for themselves," said Paul Aldighieri, HMI engineer. "The only true way to get a feel for what the screens are telling the driver is by actually getting behind the wheel."

Over 30 drivers have helped Ford refine the in-dash display over the past year. The simulator allows drivers to navigate an 11-mile course that includes terrain like hills, city streets, country roads, and flat lands. The drivers provided feedback on their understanding of the cars various systems. For example, the Focus will feature a system known as Brake Coach that shows the amount of energy that is returned to the car battery based on braking. Drivers found the initial version of Brake Coach to be too confusing and scientific. Engineers refined the program so that drivers can now easily understand how to more efficiently brake.

The drivers also critiqued the graphic interface of the MyTouch display. The original display showed a surplus and deficit on a circuit board graphic, which many drivers found strange or cold. The engineers retooled the display, and now a surplus is shown by a number of butterflies. The higher number of butterflies on the display, the farther the driver can travel beyond the charge point. Many drivers think this easy to use system will help. One tester said before the system was revamped, he had to stick to a travel plan to ensure he didn't run out of power. Now he knows exactly how much extra power he can get from his vehicle, allowing him to make side trips and stops.

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Cliff Turner has been an automotive enthusiast ever since high school, where he developed a passion for cars while working for the local Saturn/Hummer dealership. When he isn't writing, he is busy earning his Juris Doctorate at John Marshall Law School in Atlanta.

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