The automotive exterior lighting systems have seen many significant advances, since the early days of oil lanterns used on road vehicles. A variety of lighting systems are now available, and incandescent bulbs are no longer the only option available for the automakers. Advances in light source technologies are now allowing safer, more cost efficient and greater light generation than ever before. New technologies are now set to propel automotive lighting to the forefront of automotive technology. Technologies such as high-intensity discharge (HID or xenon), adaptive front lighting (AFL) systems and light-emitting diode (LED) systems enhance safety and offer comfort and convenience for the drivers and occupants.

Safety is the Main Driver

The major driver for the automotive lighting market is vehicle safety through better road illumination for the driver. The continuous focus of vehicle manufacturers and suppliers on these lines has led to various innovations in exterior lighting. AFL allows the drivers to look into curves in the road and to better anticipate the road ahead, allowing for additional reaction time. Advancements in light sources such as LED and HID provide sharper and faster acting light sources that allow drivers to better anticipate the actions of other vehicles.

Futuristic solutions under development from suppliers such as Hella integrate navigation systems to AFL, in order to precisely predict road information such as curvature, urban/rural area, geometry and others, and greatly enhance the performance of adaptive frontal lightning systems. The market for map-based AFL systems is expected to reach €34 million by 2015, which will go a long way in limiting road fatalities and help in achieving safe driving at night. With an increasing focus on pedestrian safety, there are discussions considering mandatory fitment of AFL for improved pedestrian safety and preventing accidents in night driving conditions.

Daytime running lights (DRL) help in easy identification of on-coming cars in all light conditions that aid in avoiding head-on collisions. Countries such as Norway and Sweden require compulsory DRL across all seasons, and the European Commission is expected to mandate DRL on all new cars in Europe from 2011. Aspects of lighting performance and pedestrian compatibility in crashes that remained unregulated are now being fast-tracked for regulation. Vehicle manufacturers provide more importance to pedestrian safety while designing the headlamp. Front-end modules (FEM) and lighting systems are carefully designed to limit pedestrian crashes, and the design regulations of lighting systems to improve pedestrian protection are expected to be mandated by 2010.

Health, Wellness and Well-being

As consumers are increasingly spending time in their cars, it is necessary to make driving stress free. Frost & Sullivan's end-user survey on health, wellness and well-being (HWW) clearly indicates the growing trend among the end consumers and vehicle manufacturers that HWW is considered to be the next big factor for product differentiation after environment.

Consumers see health and wellness as having good health, being stress free and not being tired or depressed. Aggressive road users, poor vision and high levels of traffic congestion induce the most stress among the European consumers. 50 per cent of the consumers consider poor lighting of road as a stressful factor, and welcome systems that offer better visibility, thereby providing a business case for new and improved lighting technologies such as LED, AFL, HID and DRL. Chart 1 illustrates the consumer perceptions on various stress increasing factors while driving.

Chart 1: Consumer Perceptions on Stress Increasing Factors (Europe), HWW

Chart 1

Adaptive front lighting systems would be an ideal solution for reducing the stress caused by visibility issues, as they automatically adjust headlamp beam distribution to the prevailing road profile and visibility condition. However, less than 5 per cent of the consumers are willing to pay the price at which the systems are offered, while nearly 40 per cent are not willing to pay any extra charges. Chart 2 shows the European consumers' willingness to pay for various systems including AFL.

Chart 2: Consumer Willingness to Pay for AFL Systems (Europe), HWW

Chart 2

Styling and Convenience

Exterior styling is an important factor that influences consumers' buying trends. Exterior lighting adds a new dimension to vehicle styling. Clear look in headlamps, complex shape lamps and light color effect are the common features that are looked for by the consumers. Nearly 70 per cent of the consumers look at the exterior aesthetic appeal while purchasing a vehicle. New light sources such as LEDs provide styling advantages, make the vehicle look unique and increase the aesthetic quotient of the vehicle by giving more freedom to the designers than the traditional light sources such as halogens.

LEDs supplied by OSRAM Opto Semiconductors in Audi A4's DRL provide high-visibility and improved lumen output. Furthermore, DRL provides product elegance and sweeping looks for the exteriors, thereby bringing in product differentiation for the manufacturers.

LEDs Lead the Way

New solid-state lighting solutions such as LEDs offer higher benefits such as lower power consumption, higher design flexibility and increased visual appeal. LEDs have some significant advantages over HID in terms of packaging, styling flexibility, power consumption and life. LEDs last longer than incandescent bulbs, as they have no filaments and are resistant to shock and vibration. Chart 3 illustrates the cost benefit analysis of various lighting technologies.

Chart 3: Cost-Benefit Analysis of Exterior Lighting Technologies (Europe)

Chart 3

LEDs in front lighting are gaining acceptance as full-LEDs, DRL and as indicators. Stylish LED DRL in the new Audi A4 and full LED headlamps in the new R8 have opened up new possibilities in front lighting. With minimal power consumption, LEDs help in reducing vehicle's fuel consumption, and in turn reduce CO2 emissions. LEDs have a homogenous distribution of light and the color temperature is closer to the daylight, thereby pleasing to the eye when compared to bluish xenon and yellowish halogen. The less price-sensitive premium segment customers will drive the adoption of LED headlamps. The market for full LED headlamps is expected to generate revenue of 600 million by 2015.

The Verdict

The whole automotive ecosystem is in a state of turmoil. With plunging consumer confidence and vehicle sales, there remains a challenge for the auto industry to emerge successfully. Under current difficult conditions, lighting suppliers are faced with a challenge of upgrading their portfolio with next generation lighting systems, and producing efficient solutions for new market segments and requirements such as electric vehicles, hybrid applications and low cost cars. Though LED lighting will remain in the super luxury market in the short term, LED together with Xenon and AFS will lead they way in the medium term with the trend on Intelligent Lighting. Chart 4 shows the interest levels of various European VMs toward LED adoption in exterior lighting applications.

Chart 4: Interest Levels of Various Manufacturers towards LED adoption in Automotive Exterior Lighting (Europe)

Chart 4

Intelligent functions such as infrared LEDs for night vision systems and future development in the integration of headlamps with GPS maps and lane departure systems provide exciting opportunities for lighting suppliers by bringing in additional advanced driver assistance (ADAS) capabilities that are required to be competitive in the marketplace. Suppliers such as Hella, Valeo and Visteon have diversified into the ADAS territory. Valeo's Beamatic and Beamatic vision plus systems offer progressive and predictive lighting based on the environment. Integration of lighting systems with other driver assistance systems to offer a complete safety solution and investing in complementary vision systems would be the value proposition for suppliers in the future.

Aswin Kumar, Research Analyst, Automotive & Transportation