VDO has lost its way

Posted on June 12th, 2008 in Driving Emotion by Julian Edgar

Back when I owned my first car, about 25 years ago, I just adored the VDO gauge catalog.

Not knowing much about cars, I was terrified of touching the engine’s carby, or the suspension, or the brakes – or anything much at all. But I knew I could install extra instruments without wrecking the car, so plenty of new gauges found their way into the cabin.

In that first car, an air-cooled 2-cylinder, I installed a VDO oil temperature gauge, one with the sensor mounted in a new, purpose-designed dipstick. In later cars I fitted VDO cylinder head temperature gauges, exhaust gas temperature gauges, turbo boost gauges, and transmission temperature gauges.

Gauges are good – you learn about the operation of the car, can immediately spot when you’re pushing the driveline too hard, and can see problems as they develop.

So the other day, when I was at a show that had the (apparently) latest VDO catalog, I enthusiastically grabbed it. It’s actually marked as being the 2007 VDO Racing catalog, but it’s the same old format that I looked through so long ago – comprising automotive, commercial vehicles and marine.

But, after reading through it, I bloody well wondered why I bothered picking it up: the 1985 catalog would have done just as well!

If ever I have seen a company that chooses to treat automotive enthusiasts with contempt, it must be VDO. The range of gauges and instruments is stuck in an absolute time warp: we’re talking only the most trivial advances in 20 years.

Digital gauges? Apart from a green LED clock that doesn’t appear to have advanced one iota since it was first included in the catalog (I haven’t checked, but by appearance that would be in the 1970s), you can forget digital gauges. (Oh yes, apart from the odometer in a speedo…)

Smart programmable multi function LCD panels? You’re joking.

Gauges running colour-selectable LED lighting? Nope. (Or any LED lighting? Nope….)

Gauges that can read from engine management sensors – or even the OBD port? No – not one. There is literally not a single gauge in the book that reflects the universal application of engine management over the last 20 years…

An air/fuel ratio gauge? Nope.

An injector duty cycle gauge? Nope.

Real time ignition timing, or short- and long-term fuel trims? Nope, nope and nope.

Now you might say that some of these parameters are obscure – but so are exhaust gas and gearbox temps. Long- and short-term fuel trims will tell you about a myriad of problems – if you have a gauge to show them.

VDO certainly provides modern instrument and gauge technology to OE manufacturers – they just chose to make none of it available to us….

11 Responses to 'VDO has lost its way'

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  1. Ben said,

    on June 12th, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Whereas looking at the latest Jaycar catalogue reveals ways (if you have the skill, which in the case of ignition timing and fuel trims would be considerable) to do all of the above. But there really should be a guage manufacturer that does things like that.

    So does anybody make a guage with a needle that reads voltages directly? And looks at home on a dashboard?

  2. Julian Edgar said,

    on June 12th, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Where are the Jaycar gauges to read fuel trims or real time ignition timing? In fact, AFAIK, Jaycar sells no ‘automotive’ gauges at all. They sell some kits, but that’s not the same thing is it?

  3. Gordon Drennan said,

    on June 12th, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    There’s an old saying in advertising that Volvo adverts are designed to appeal to the sort of people who buy Volvos. Maybe Julian the reason VDO’s gauge catalog doesn’t appeal to you because you aren’t the sort of person who buys VDO guages. Have you thought that the people who put gauges in their car do do it for quite different reasons to why you want to know about obscure esoterica like EGR and lean cruise.

  4. Julian Edgar said,

    on June 12th, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Gordon, who mentioned gauges for lean cruise and EGR? Not me.

  5. Tom said,

    on June 12th, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    I second Gordon’s comment, Julian. Your contempt for VDO is justified, but VDO must make a killing selling “monster” tachos and other such gauges to bogans and P-platers.

    Their target market is clearly not guys like you who can and do modify their cars intelligently.

  6. Julian Edgar said,

    on June 12th, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    There’s not one ‘monster’ tacho listed in the catalog. They’re all good looking, ‘serious’ gauges.

  7. Jack Herer said,

    on June 13th, 2008 at 12:09 am

    I assumed VDO gauges were aimed at the classic market? Companies like SPA Design and Racetech supply my instruments, along with Stack for tachos and also Caerbont/CAI (the resurrected Smiths company) are showing signs of making some interesting things these days.

  8. Philip Armbruster said,

    on June 13th, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Julian, I think the answer is in the market, which I surmise is declining.
    Have you looked on the Continental /Siemens/VDO site?
    Their products are certainly modern and appropriate, eg the fuel sensor for alcohol vs petrol.
    Just one VDO product is here
    using LEDs etc etc.
    Like it or not the absolute number of technically interested car enthusiasts is declining and so are markets for specialist gauges.

    Regards Philip A

  9. David Henderson said,

    on June 13th, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Hey Julian,
    A friend of mine in the instrument buisness has been developing an OLED screen, about the size of a ipod screen that can display anything you want it too… just load it’s memory full of jpgs and a voltage signal switches between them. it works well for a fuel gauge or a really small slideshow (think flip book)

  10. Ivan said,

    on June 14th, 2008 at 12:08 am

    I for one appreciate the fact that they dont produce any shiny gauges with colour selectable led lighting, but then I like classic styling.
    Just because they dont sell aftermarket gauges for all kinds of exotic parameters does not mean they dont know how to make them. They are still the top supplier of most big german carmakers and as such do a lot of development for car electronics. It’s more likely that they dont sell them because there isnt a big enough market for it (their standard line up suits my needs just fine). Aftermarket gauges have not been their core business for a long time, and it’s likely to become even worse as modern cars are getting more and more discouraging to fiddle around with (maybe not to autospeed, but certainly for the masses).
    If you really want to monitor everything, you’re better off with an electronic data aquisition system than with separate gauges anyway.. there’s only so much space for gauges y’know.

  11. Julian Edgar said,

    on July 2nd, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    I hadn’t seen this until today, but this is the sort of thing VDO should surely be producing – http://www.dashhawk.com/features.html