Nissan to put lead-foot gauge on all models

— -- Nissan NSANY plans to equip all of its cars and trucks with a gauge to tell drivers when they are being gas-guzzling lead foots.

The "fuel-efficiency" meter, as the gauge is called, shows up already as a horizontal bar in the instrument cluster of the 2007 Nissan Altima and the 2008 Titan pickup, Armada SUV, Infiniti G35 car and QX56 SUV. When coasting down a hill, the meter is long and orange, meaning little fuel is being used. When the pedal is to the metal, the line shortens dramatically.

"You will become a little less lead-footed if you can see what putting your foot to the pedal does to your fuel economy," suggests Nissan spokesman Tony Pearson.

Similar gauges are found on some models by other automakers, especially hybrid and luxury vehicles. But Nissan's move to put them on every model demonstrates how automakers are racing to be fuel conscious as high gasoline prices weigh more heavily on consumers.

Based on in-house tests, Nissan predicts drivers will cut their fuel use by about 10% when they have a gauge that monitors their driving habits. The gauge will be phased in as new models roll out over the next few years.

Environmentalists are encouraged.

"It shouldn't be just wealthy people with luxury cars that have this information," says Tim Carmichael, senior director of policy for the Coalition for Clean Air. "I hope the rest of the industry follows them."

David Friedman, research director for the vehicles program of the Union for Concerned Scientists, says Nissan is making a "common-sense thing that should have been done decades ago so you know what you're getting" when it comes to fuel mileage.

Ford Motor f and General Motors gm combine their gas-mileage information in a "driver information center" that not only shows gas use at the moment but over the length of a trip. On Ford's Mustang and its pickups, the feature comes as part of optional, higher-cost trim levels.

Toyota's TM readout on vehicles such as Prius, Avalon, Camry and Highlander goes all the way to 99 miles per gallon.

Honda HMC has a gauge on its hybrids, but in addition, it has a simplified "eco light" on some gas-powered models, including Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV and Accord sedan. It lights when the vehicle is being driven at its optimum. "Our customers tell us it's a helpful tool," says Honda's Sage Marie.

Some automakers worry that the gauge could add another layer of distraction to the dashboard. "We're already putting in so many features for the driver," says Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa. Chrysler will have the gauges on its new hybrid models.