TOYOTA CITY, Japan -- Attention Toyota dealers: You soon may have to sell skeptical shoppers on the benefits of looking for the speedometer atop the center of the instrument panel, rather than behind the steering wheel.
Toyota Motor Corp. argues that the high, center location for the instrument cluster is easier to use for a wider range of drivers.
Moving the gauges is just one of a number of changes that Toyota is introducing as part of a push to incorporate so-called "universal design" principles.
Toyota insists that it will be flexible in locating the gauges according to universal design. In other words, it won't repeat BMW AG's insistence that drivers adjust to its iDrive instrument controls.
But already, the cluster of gauges are on the center of the instrument panel in one-half of Toyota's vehicles sold in Japan.
"We don't think there is only one approach" to improving the driver's visual perception of instrument gauges, says Tadao Okumura, a project manager in the design development department. Toyota could use center-mounted gauges, head-up displays or just make the gauges larger, depending on the target buyer, he says.
But older drivers have more difficulty seeing objects that are close, Okumura says.
Research is mixed on the value of high, center-mounted gauges. It takes "a couple of months, maybe" for the average driver to become fully accustomed to center-mounted displays, says Toshiyasu Asai, general manager of Denso Corp.'s body electronics components engineering department. He cites in-house studies as evidence.
Okumura counters that it is "rather easy" for drivers to become accustomed to center-mounted gauges. He says Toyota has not had any negative customer feedback regarding its center-mounted displays.
Suppliers such as Visteon Corp. have promoted center-mounted displays as a cost-saving measure. Such instrument panels do not need to be redesigned for right- vs. left-hand drive markets.
Toyota says it has other motivations. Its universal design efforts are aimed at making cars easier for everyone to use. Much of the effort is clearly aimed at Japan's aging population.
An estimated 19.5 percent of Japan's population is over age 65.
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