Bright Lights Ahead

Nov 1, 2012

Exterior lighting options for trucks and offroad are changing – and quickly.

The automotive aftermarket is evolving. As it moves through another decade of the 21st Century, exterior lighting is moving and evolving with it. But bigger and brighter is not always necessarily better these days. As new products come to market, more demand is placed on efficient lighting that pairs economy with style. And lighting manufacturers are responding to the demands placed on them from the market. Think: lightweight light.

Restyling asked around and got some useful ideas about technology trends and market directions, and what restylers can expect from the major automotive lighting manufacturers. Our lighting experts also offered up some insight on how to transfer those ideas to their customers, who no doubt will have questions of their own. It should prove useful as a new wave of pickup and offroad drivers come in hoping to find someone who has some light to shed on the subject.

Restyling (RE): Describe the exterior lighting options for the pickup and offroad markets that aftermarket installers likely will want to have available for their clients.

Chris Von Ritter, KC HiLites, Williams, Ariz.:There are three main lighting options that consumers choose to upgrade their lighting system with aftermarket lights: HIDs, halogens and LEDs. It is important for them to have options when looking to do aftermarket upgrades because no two consumers are alike, and aftermarket retailer/installers should provide options, along with education as to what the consumer can expect from each type of lighting system. Many consumers simply want a plug-and-play option. This is where a halogen lighting system can come into play. The consumer can keep the factory fixtures, and simply change out the current lamps to an upgraded halogen. This can also be done with HID lamps; this change-out is sometimes just the look and effect that the consumer is looking for.

However, when a consumer is looking into going big and brighter with their lighting system, I always recommend adding more lights, and this is typically done by adding offroad halogen or LED fixtures. Halogen lights give off a warm, glowing look, while LED lights give off a brighter, whiter look and can be produced in various colors. Both are effective options in adding additional light, but the marketing is trending more and more toward LED lights due to their low power consumption, size, look, style and longevity.

Bogdan Durian, Delta Tech Industries, Ontario, Calif.: I would always start with a roll bar or push bar. In the 1980s, 90% of truck owners used a roll bar or push bar to hold lights, so we in the lighting business thought of them as fixtures and, naturally, we supported manufacturers who sold them. As time progressed, trucks became nicer looking, and the “tough” look is gone. Today, the common options are to either mount lights on a push bar or the fascia.

We also recently introduced a hood bar. We believe that product concept will catch on, and we believe this is where truck lighting is heading. Fascia lights are only effective for illuminating the ground, but the hood bar puts the light way out ahead.

Another new product, (now only available for the Ford F-150) is called the D-bra. It’s a bra that fits over the front license plates and holds two additional lights for more power or for fog lights. It completes that space between the license plate and the bumper.

We also have recently designed a bar that attaches under the back bumper, called a Twin-Bar, that has five functions: LED backup light; LED blinker; LED stop, four sensors; and a camera.

Lastly is a work light that’s mounted in the back. It’s old school, but still good to have for backing up or working in the back, or loading at night. For the back of the truck, it’s the No.1 must-have.

Justin M. Hartenstein, Oracle Lighting, Metairie, La.: When a customer comes to you and expresses a need to “upgrade” their lighting, there are generally two ways to do this, depending on their needs.

One: Upgrade the existing factory lighting on the vehicle. This can be anything from installing brighter halogen-type bulbs to adding a Xenon conversion kit. The advantage of this is that these kits are generally simple to install and do not require any additional equipment or switches to the vehicle. There have been some new regulations on adding aftermarket lighting (specifically HIDs), so be sure to check local laws and regulations.

Two: Adding auxiliary lighting to the vehicle. Auxiliary lighting or offroad lights have gone through a major transformation in the past few years. Auxiliary lights used to be large, round spotlights that put off plenty of heat, required lots of power to operate, could easily be broken or burn out, and had an unpleasant yellowish look to them. These days, most customers looking for auxiliary lighting are interested in high-powered LED light bars. These sleek, low-profile lights can produce brilliant light output while consuming very little power, and are virtually indestructible because of their solid-state LED design.

RE: How should truck and offroad aftermarket retailer-installers go about recommending the ideal lights to their customers for each one’s particular needs?

Chris Von Ritter, KC HiLites: When looking to invest in an aftermarket lighting system, consumers should be asking themselves, “What are my needs, wants and style?” Everyone is different and has a different budget, so being able to provide multiple examples of installations is key. I have photos, personal vehicles and [I] utilize the Internet when showing consumers their options.

Being able to touch and see the product is also key. Display stands with the fixtures help consumers to see brightness, durability and color – all things that are important when looking to upgrade their lighting system. It’s all about asking questions, then educating the consumer and setting their expectations for the end product.

Bogdan Durian, Delta Tech: For long-range front lighting, hands down I recommend HID, no hesitation. I have my headlights in HID; I have my fog lights in HID; driving lights, HID; everything else in LED.

Justin M. Hartenstein, Oracle Lighting: LED lights can produce more light while consuming less power than either halogen or HID. Since LED technology is relatively new, prices are still high, which may cause some initial sticker-shock to customers. But considering that the average high-end LED auxiliary light should last 50,000 hours of continuous use, it can likely outlive the vehicle it is installed on.

RE: Where do you see the greatest use of exterior LEDs on trucks and offroad vehicles, and where do you see the applications going in the next year or two? Is there another low-energy, long-lasting lighting system waiting in the wings?

Chris Von Ritter, KC HiLites: I am seeing a lot more LED lights being installed on trucks, cars, offroad vehicles, show vehicles, work trucks, etc. LED lights are brighter and whiter than any current light on the market. The show trucks love the sleek look of the bar design, and the work trucks love the low power consumption, brightness and distance that they get from an LED light. LED lights are becoming more universal – and not just for the offroad enthusiast.

In the next year or so, I see more and more customers wanting LED lights; the technology is very good for LEDs but there is always room for improvement and adjustments. There are just so many cool things that can be done with them. For example, our KC HiLites division is working on a patent-pending dual LED light bar. Flip up, you have white, flip down you have amber – or any color you want. I don’t foresee another long-lasting, low-energy system in the future. I believe LEDs are still the wave of the future and will continue to become more and more popular.

Bogdan Durian, Delta Tech: Besides interior lighting, LED is good for signaling, backup and daytime running lights [DRLs]. LEDs are getting better, but the trade-off is that for, say, a light output of 800 lumens you need a heat sink that weighs a couple of pounds – and the added weight decreases the vehicle’s fuel efficiency.

Also, LEDs have a short reflective range; those 800 lumens decrease dramatically if you go out 1,000 yards.

The new tech is to shine LEDs into reflectors, but it still takes a lot of them to match the output of HID.

Justin M. Hartenstein, Oracle Lighting: LED exterior lighting applications will continue to evolve in the next few years, mostly with the introduction of organic LEDs (O-LEDs), but laser (yes, laser) lighting will ultimately replace LED. While laser lights may sound like something out of science fiction, they are very similar to LED but are actually more energy efficient.

RE: What are the trends in pickup truck and offroad lighting?

Chris Von Ritter, KC HiLites: The roof-mounted 50″ LED light bar is definitely one trend that I am seeing more and more. Typically, only pre-runner/offroad race trucks had the roof-mounted LED lights, but that is not the case anymore. As LED lights become more and more popular, consumers look for ways to go big and make a statement. The 50″ roof-mounted bar does this, but also provides practicality because there is always a situation where more light is needed on the everyday pickup trucks. I always say, “The more light the better in any situation.”

Bogdan Durian, Delta Tech: The trend is to go with less; and it’s influenced by racing. Racers don’t want any dead weight because that slows them down.

The question is how to lose weight without losing efficiency? And for the offroader, it’s how to make it look good. Pre-runner push bars are probably the most popular among the guys who want to go offroading but who are not racers.

The hood bar was never available before. I want them to get to the idea that the hood bar can do what the push bar used to do, only be higher and, therefore, illuminate a longer distance.

Justin M. Hartenstein, Oracle Lighting: Offroad lights are being placed where they are most visible, in the bumper bars and across the roofline of most vehicles. Many of these trucks are too fancy to go offroad and wear these huge lights like jewelry.

RE: What are some marketing tips you can offer shop owners/managers to help increase sales of aftermarket lighting?

Chris Von Ritter, KC HiLites: Having a showroom and allowing consumers to see lighting products is always key. An interactive Internet station is always good to have, so that shop owners/managers can use video, photos and social media to show the consumers what is out there.

Bogdan Durian, Delta Tech: The best marketing is to demonstrate how the lights work; that makes anybody a believer. But, unfortunately, most people come in the daytime into a well-illuminated store, and it’s difficult to show it. The next best strategy is having a wide blackboard showing graphs and beam patterns of different types of light so people can see and compare them. Knowledge is king. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of each type of light source and the cost vs. benefits of each will be invaluable.

Justin M. Hartenstein, Oracle Lighting: Considering placement is key to many customers, we suggest carrying LED light bars in a wide variety of sizes so, no matter where they plan to mount the bar, you will have one available for that application. Displaying these light bars with an interactive setup where the customer can turn on the bar and see the brightness is also very important. Once the customer sees how bright the light bars are and how much light they put out, it is a much easier sell.

Putting lights into practice

We asked our lighting sources to offer a real-world example of a specific lighting application/installation that a restyler might install. Here’s what they share:

Justin M. Hartenstein, Oracle Lighting: Many customers use their trucks for working on job sites, hunting, fishing, etc. So we have seen many customers looking for “work lights” -basically, smaller LED lights that can illuminate a work area, pickup truck bed or trailer.

Chris Von Ritter, KC HiLites: I am working on an aftermarket pre-runner winch bumper. It has four round holes, and I am cutting and squaring out the holes to install LED light bars. When finished, the bumper will have two 6″ KC HiLites LED light bars and two Spike edition KC HiLites LED light bars. It’s going to be a whole lot of bumper with a whole lot of lights.

Bogdan Durian, Delta Tech: If you have a Ford truck that has 4-1/2″ pockets in the fascia, in five minutes you can install a complete assembly for that with the lights. It’s an easy install and it’s the first smartest thing to add to headlight illumination. The harness is pre-wired and while installers have the truck lifted for something else, it’s a nice additional sale.