At Light Speed

Apr 14, 2011

The automotive lighting market is on-¨fire with the very latest versions of LEDs, HIDs, xenon and halogens for both interior and exterior use. To try to draw a bead on this fast-moving target, we asked a number of sources about the lighting market for 2011.

Our first question was about helping customers select the right kind of lighting, that is, in recommending the right lighting for the right vehicle and for the right applications. What are your suggestions to installers as they help customers select the ideal lights for their particular needs?

At Delta Tech Industries, Ontario, Calif., company owner Bogdan Durian says, “LED [light-emitting diode] is recommended for interior illumination or exterior signaling lights for all types of vehicles due to their clean white, red or amber light. HID [high-intensity discharge] is recommended for exterior use and forward illumination use in all current-production luxury vehicles. They provide near-daylight vision while still conserving 36% amp draw over halogen lighting. The recommended maximum Kelvin color scale is 6,000K. Anything higher than that will produce unrealistic, annoying light color that’s not conducive to our eyesight.

“Halogen lights are used in all current production vehicles. They are ‘old school,’ developed in Europe in the early the ’70s and introduced to the U.S. a decade later. They were then a great improvement over the sealed beams but today are being replaced by xenon and HID light sources.”

Alfredo de la Vega of Hella Inc., Peachtree City, Ga., tells us, “In general terms, installers should only replace the light source with the same type. If we are dealing with an improvement, it will depend on the purpose of the additional light needs. For example, fog lamps are mainly available in halogen since the light distribution is more relevant than power. Driving lamps, on the other hand, could be halogen, xenon or LED (LED is still developing its performance). The final decision will depend on the expectations of the light output vs. cost. Hella has a wide range of auxiliary lamps in various sizes and technologies from -¦ halogen fog lamps to our newest development, the first Rallye 4000 LED driving lamp.

“An important note is to advise installers not to install a xenon upgrade kit on headlamps. This is not legal and will not produce a better light pattern. It could be brighter, but this will affect opposite traffic.”

Over at St. Louis-based Super Bright LED, Brian Limbeck notes this: “Make sure to have several options as far as light output. Some customers are looking for a stock replacement; others are looking for something brighter than their stock units. In addition, make sure to have amber LEDs (for turn signals) and red LEDs (for brake lights) in stock. This will greatly improve the color seen in the application.”

For MEA Mobile, of New Haven, Conn., Bruce Seymour asserts that “Lighting is about the visual effect it has on other objects.

“How does something look when a different color, brightness or spectrum of light is cast upon it? You can’t look directly at the sun without eye irritation and the same irritation applies looking directly at bulbs. When the emphasis is on the bulb itself, there’s a danger of it looking tacky – you have lampshades at home for a reason. This same functionality should be applied to the vehicle.”

Lights now, tomorrow

Our second question was about the best use of this technology and where it’s heading, such as more interior or exterior usage. De la Vega from Hella says, “LEDs are going to be seen more often in new vehicles and also in the aftermarket. Not only because they’re cool looking and have the flexibility they provide to designers that allows them to develop lamps with different shapes, but they last longer and consume less power. LEDs started being part of vehicles on the third brake light and, nowadays, headlamps are fully produced with LED technology. Others, like fog lamps, etc. will follow – until all lights will be LED.”

For example, de la Vega adds, “Hella is delivering mass production, full LED headlamps for the Cadillac Escalade Platinum. We are now producing full LED lamps (all functions: turn signal, DRL [daytime running lamps], etc.) for the 2100 Audi A8 and soon the Audi A6, as well.

“Last November, we presented to the aftermarket the Rallye 4000 LED lamp, which features three LED modules in an innovative design/layout. And we are also delivering to the industry the Powerbeam Series, which ranges from 1,000 to 3,000 lumens of light output – for which its performance is equal or better than Xenon lamps.”

Limbeck from Super Bright says, “We believe that more and more consumers are going to realize the benefits of replacing their current bulbs with LEDs and are, therefore, working hard to increase our already large selection of automotive LEDs.

“Within the next two years, we believe that LED lighting as a whole will become much more mainstream. As technology and production increases, prices will continue to fall, thereby driving up demand.

“The future for LEDs is bright. With their high output, long life and low power consumption, LEDs will be the pre-eminent light source for the foreseeable future. We are currently seeing increased demand in all areas of automotive LED lighting: interior and exterior replacement bulbs and also in accent lighting.”

At St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M Automotive Division, Johnnie Williams says, “The greatest initial use of LEDs is for exterior lighting, and these applications are abundant today. The proliferation of exterior headlight, taillight component design and other exterior lighting applications will continue to drive opportunity for LEDs.

“However, there is a lot of new activity and growth in interiors. LEDs combined with various light distribution technologies will give way to more design freedom. With so much attention focused on interior design, interior personalization, connectivity and communication, LED technology is a great fit. Consumers are accustomed to the appearance and performance of LEDs in their personal and home electronic devices, so there is a natural path of expectation for automotive interiors.”

Seymour from MEA points out, “The greatest initial use is the replacement of exterior conventional light spaces with LED product. I feel that control and integration is the next great frontier of lighting. In the past we’ve had On/Off. Now we have On/What level of On? Who wants it On? When do they want it On? What color do they want? What lighting characteristics are most appropriate for the task? How long should it be On? Off. When should it go Off?

“Long term, I feel organic compound light emission will provide a next-generation low-energy lighting system. Of course, there will always be technology changes in lighting. What I’m excited about, however, is participating in the current transition to LED. It’s a profound and exciting combination of a broad range technologies including wireless, mobile and LED applied to lighting; all coming together to create a lighting revolution.”

Durian of Delta says, “LED lighting is most effective for interior illumination and for signaling outside illumination only. We see LEDs to become standard equipment on all interior lighting as well as all signaling lights, making the presently used incandescent light bulbs obsolete.”

New lights for classic cars

Our next question was about restoration lighting and how to maintain an OEM look. Seymour says, “In some cases, a modern replacement light bulb supplies a different spectrum of light, many times the magnitude of the original equipment. So I feel there can be a tradeoff between authenticity and safety. As with any restoration, in the end it’s a personal aesthetic choice.”

Durian tells us that restoration lighting “provides modern technology in prismatic optics using a precision glass lens and metal reflectors while retaining the classic look for that precious classic car or hot rod.”

De la Vega adds: “We do have universal lamps, which are produced under Hella requirements and are the same applied in the OEM products in order to deliver the best product possible to the market.”

Accent-uate the positive

And what about the use of lighting in vehicle underbodies and on motorcycles? How far will this trend go? Williams from 3M says, “Much design opportunity and design refinement remain to be explored in the accent lighting area.”

“The trend,” he says, “has been underway for a few years and we are still seeing new ideas. The advancement of new light technology (light source and guides) will drive the accent lighting trend on for another three or four years. It appears that everyone, OEMs and restyling component manufacturers’ alike, are trying to create a ‘signature’ look for their products. It’s about communicating the brand. Also, I think consumers are now beginning to expect some form of accent lighting, both exterior and interior, on new vehicles. 3M has been in the optical science business for over 70 years and we continue to bring new technologies and products into the automotive marketplace to meet these evolving demands.”

Durian says accent lighting “is becoming a very useful trend not only to individualize a vehicle but also to enhance safety to its passengers. Items introduced by Delta Tech Industries over the past three years like door safety lights, ambient floor lights, sequential arrows and courtesy lights are all good examples of purposeful decorative LED lighting.”

De la Vega agrees, noting, “Accent lighting is a trend and will be used even more. LEDs are giving a lot of flexibility to designers to play with. For some car manufacturers it will part of their headlights or even brand ID. The use of daytime running lights and their shape/design are now being used (concept-wise) in rear lamps, where, for example, Hella is using its expertise in

Says Limbeck: “LEDs are vastly different than any other lighting source. Some customers tend to want something comparable to their stock bulbs, others want something brighter or even a different color (for interior lighting). We cater to all of these consumers.”

And Seymour says, “Intelligent accent lighting will be a huge growth area for both OEMs and secondary markets. New choices in form factor, control and color will enable manufacturers to develop and offer new products to consumers. What we’re seeing now is just the beginning.”

Bright tips

We asked for some marketing tips shops cans to increase sales for all vehicles.

Durian tells us, “The most effective way for retailers to sell aftermarket lighting is to dress up a good-looking rig with eye-catching lighting accessories and park it in front of the store. We keep all our show cars in front of our facility. It is more effective than a giant billboard.”

De la Vega says, “Lights are a safety device and are used when they are needed more at night. As any other component in the vehicle, lights reduce their performance with time and use. They need to be replaced on a regular basis. Headlamp bulbs must be replaced in pairs for various reasons – color output, performance and also because if one lamp failed, most likely the other side will do so soon. It is also important to offer aiming service. You can replace your light source, but if the alignment of the lamps is not correct the performance will still be low. So the key is light source and distribution. In the case of offroaders, it’s relevant to know what will be the use of the vehicle. Hella offers different beam patterns in order to provide light wherever it is needed. For shop owners, we advise to show the product. To support their efforts, we have created a mini site that offers all relevant information to consumers in regards to auxiliary lighting with diagrams, beam patterns accessories and full descriptions of our products along with videos and other documentation that explains the features and benefits.”

Limbeck says to offer a “wide selection of LED types, and display comparisons and example photographs. Once people can see the effects and are aware of the benefits, they are much more likely to purchase. Try to have these examples available for all of the LED products you carry.”

Seymour gave us the final word, “Seeing a picture of a light and seeing the light in action are two fundamentally different experiences. The most effective way to sell lighting is through in-store displays, period. Great lighting merchandising can be found in the consumer home lighting market at big box retailer and lighting specialists. Main point: All the lights are on.”

Are the lights on for you?