Astra Automotive’s bulb range

Astra Automotive’s bulb range

Astra Automotive is the brand born out of Lampion & Co Ltd.  The company has been serving the automotive aftermarket since the early 1980s. In addition to selling replacement light bulbs, the company supplies a range of wiper blades, electrical parts and vehicle maintenance equipment. just-auto talked with Leon Callahan, managing director and Robert Jones, director of Astra Automotive about some notable trends in the vehicle lighting sector.

just-auto: What trends are you seeing to vehicle lighting systems these days?

Astra Automotive: New vehicles consistently have design changes which impacts upon the design of lighting. New technology bulbs are commonplace. Furthermore many cars now have LED lighting systems, particularly noticeable on vehicles on offer from manufacturers with a higher and more costly specification.

How are those trends impacting your lighting business?

The aftermarket can only react to trends set by the manufacturers and inevitably there is a certain time lag before these permeate into the replacement market.

LED automotive lighting is becoming popular for a variety of applications.  How has that affected the vehicle lighting aftermarket?

LED lighting is, of course, quite new to vehicle manufacturers and the way forward for the aftermarket is unclear at this stage. LED units should offer very good life but failure on the small LEDs within a cluster could be very costly for the motorist -- particularly if the vehicle is out of warranty -- and the crash repair and insurance markets. In these austere times, that may put pressure upon the manufacturers to think again.

The EU recently mandated the use of daytime running lights for newly-registered vehicles.  All new types of passenger cars and small delivery vans will have to be equipped with the lights, while trucks and buses will follow in August 2012. Does this spell out good news for your business?

The daytime running lights that we have seen are mostly LEDs, therefore this will not bring in new business for the replacement bulb market for at least three years, because in nearly all cases they will be covered under manufacturers’ warranties.
Even then, most will be fitted with LED model specific lighting systems such as the LED "Eyebrow" effect of the Audi and LED circle around the front side lights on the latest Land Rover and Range Rovers. 

These units, as we see it, will be sealed in manufacture so if a LED light was to fail, it will almost certainly be impossible to just replace the bulb.  Instead the motorist will have to replace the whole light assembly, which will prove expensive in terms of replacement and garage time.  The same goes for truck and bus operators who are more conscious of vehicle downtime and costs.

As vehicle lighting becomes more complex, has that meant consumers are tending to leave the selection and fitment of replacement bulbs to their local garage?

As the decades have moved on, owners seem less confident in tinkering with and maintaining their own vehicles. The design of vehicles has made it very difficult to change lighting, particularly in a hurry, and inevitably this has led to garages being asked to replace the bulbs. With a little confidence this could be overcome; indeed some sales outlets are now offering this service to customers.

Is there still a strong market for those who wish to ‘pimp’ their vehicle, i.e. customise it using lighting?

It would appear that the days of “styling” vehicles is not as strong as it once was! The more enthusiastic vehicle stylists use neon lamps for example, but this could make the vehicle more “fair game” to be stopped by the police; inevitably this has led to a softening of the market.