Trends and technology in advanced automotive lighting

Posted: 03/21/2017

The automotive industry is in a transformational stage in terms of lighting, with several new technologies coming to the fore which offer improved performance, safety and aesthetics.

A largely untouched sector in the US since the mid-eighties, when the government deregulated rectangular and round sealed-beam units, headlamps are set to change beyond recognition in the coming years as advanced LED and Laser technology penetrates the market. Both NHTSA and IIHS have confirmed that headlamp performance will be factored into their overall ratings of new cars by 2019, with honors awarded to the most effective.

In addition, the development of LED and OLED lighting alongside increasingly sophisticated computing power has led to rapid developments in interior lighting. Function and safety rate highly in interior applications of light, but OEM’s are also viewing light as a means of differentiating brand, while improving upon ‘in-car ambience’.

There are however, many challenges within the lighting sector. The cost of LEDs is far greater than that of traditional halogen and even HID headlamps. Increasing use of LED technology is bringing overall costs down, but further economic streamlining will be required to facilitate the transition from premium segment cars to mid-range vehicles. Meanwhile the legislative landscape has made it difficult for OEM’s to introduce some new headlamp technologies, and regulatory changes will almost certainly be needed in order to embrace cutting edge designs such as adaptive headlamps.

Growth in the Lighting Market

All evidence suggests that there will be significant growth throughout the lighting sector in the coming years. Research from Markets and Markets in 2016 estimates that the automotive lighting market will experience growth at a CAGR of 7.22% from 2016 to 2021, reaching $29.53 billion by 2021. Meanwhile, Transparency Market Research published a report in 2016 which predicted that the global automotive lighting market would expand at 8.10% CAGR from 2015 to 2021, reaching a value of $34.1 billion by 2021.

According to a 2016 report published by Credence Research ‘Automotive Interior Ambient Lighting Market’, the global automotive interior lighting market stood at $3.1 billion in 2015, and is projected to grow at a 4.9% CAGR from 2016 to 2023.


LEDs are increasingly being used in automotive applications due to energy efficiency, weight reduction and space saving qualities. Focusing purely on the automotive LED market, LEDinside estimates that the global automotive LED market would reach a value of $2.29 billion by 2020, translating into a CAGR of 8% from 2015 to 2020. The research noted that the penetration of LED in the exterior lighting market stands at just 15%, and high/low beam LED headlamps could drive growth to 11% CAGR during the 2015-2020 period.

LEDinside’s research also provides an insight into the volumes of LED used in exterior lighting applications, with some 2.79 billion pieces used in production during 2015 - a figure set to grow to 3.67 billion pieces in 2020. The LED volume used in headlights and position lights will grow by 15% CAGR from 2015 to 2020, with high/low beam LED headlights reaching a CAGR of 23% during the same timeframe.

Safety Driving Development

The raw statistics, according to the NHTSA show that 49% of all passenger vehicle occupant fatalities occur in the dark, although only 25% of our driving time is at night. Headlights are increasingly coming under the spotlight as research continues to expose safety concerns.

The raw statistics, according to the NHTSA show that 49% of all passenger vehicle occupant fatalities occur in the dark, although only 25% of our driving time is at night. Headlights are increasingly coming under the spotlight as research continues to expose safety concerns.

Last year IIHS released its first ever headlight ratings, and the results made for sobering reading. The Toyota Prius v was the only midsize car out of 31 tested to earn a rating of good. The best available headlight setup for 11 of the cars evaluated earned each of them an acceptable rating, while 9 of the vehicles only reached a marginal rating. 10 of the cars tested, if bought with the best headlights available, still only managed a rating of poor. The Prius v earned its rating when equipped with LED headlamps and high-beam assist - only available on the highest trim level. The same vehicle with halogen headlights could only muster a poor rating. The real world difference, according to IIHS, translates to a significant 20 mph differential between ‘safe’ travelling speeds, whereby a driver could safely stop to avoid an accident.

Technological Trends - Exterior Lighting

Automotive lighting supplier Osram showed a range of new lighting technologies at CES 2017, demonstrating the general industry trends in exterior lighting innovation.

Osram’s laser headlights have already been used in serial production in the BMW i8 and 7 series, and the Audi R8 and R8 LMX as boosters added to the high beam. The high luminance of the laser - up to five times higher than other light sources - doubles the best high beam range previously available, from 300 to 600 meters. Laser diodes provide additional benefits due to their small size, enabling the use of smaller components.

For the future Osram displayed an advanced pixel headlight which it hopes to bring to market by 2020. In partnership with Daimler, Fraunhofer, Hella and Infineon, a smart, high resolution headlamp has been developed which continuously analyzes road and weather conditions. Based on an LED matrix chip developed by Osram which includes 1024 individually controllable pixels, the headlight (fitted with three chips) can adapt to suit driving conditions at all times. An on-board camera monitors oncoming vehicle and pedestrian traffic, and automatically dims the high resolution LEDs to ensure the head areas of other road users are not directly in the light beam. The system is also intelligent enough to account for bends in the road so there are no dark peripheral areas. This new approach means that electronic activation of the LED is integrated in the chip, allowing for a much higher resolution while still meeting space requirements. Osram’s most recent innovation in rear lighting was put into production last year in the BMW M4 GTS. The OLED rear lights were the first to be fitted in a production vehicle, and demonstrate the potential for new design. Each tail light on the BMW features 15 OLEDs with a brightness of 1.200 cd/m2. Since OLEDs can produce light in such thin layers they offer designers a host of possibilities for flexible lighting solutions. In the future the company anticipates the opportunity to create 3D effects via the close arrangement of switchable light surfaces, and the possibility of controlling individual light modules separately for dynamic functionality.

Technological Trends - Interior Lighting

HELLA brought a new concept to the interior lighting market last year with the dynamic interior of the Chevrolet Camaro. The instinctive design uses LEDs to produce an effect where the color flows through the vehicle from the center screen. The driver can select from 24 colors from the infotainment screen, or opt for preset color displays for cruise, track, sports and show modes. The lights change dynamically to produce a flowing sensations as color changes travel though drinks holders to door panels. A feature of the design is that the colors are uniform despite the use of a variety of materials in the interior. OEMs are investing in the development of lighting concepts as a means of brand differentiation, but another concept is that of using light to communicate information to the driver. Toyota revealed its Concept-I vehicle at CES 2017 to showcase the company’s vision of the future of mobility. The car features an AI assistant - named Yui -which uses light and sound to communicate with the driver and other road users. For example, colored lighting illuminates the footwell to indicate whether the vehicle is in manual or self-driving mode. The exterior of the car also uses light to communicate with driver and surroundings. Text appears on the door panel to welcome the driver when they approach the vehicle, while on the rear the car can display information about turns or hazards to other road users.

interior lighting

Future Market Development

These exciting interior and exterior concepts can only be expected to develop in the coming years as designers experiment with new technologies. However, the market is still dominated by headlights and advanced capabilities could drive rapid development.

While the European market is steaming ahead due to less stringent regulations, the US market has seen regulators err on the side of caution with regard to new headlamp technology. The first LED matrix headlights were on the market several years ago, but NHTSA guidelines on high/low beam headlights currently rule out adaptive driving beams. Some in the industry expect NHTSA to approve the technology in the coming year, although the agency has issued no formal public proposals. With technology improving so quickly, and with the news that both NHTSA and IIHS will factor headlight performance into new car ratings from 2019, a regulatory change seems almost inevitable in the near future.

Posted: 03/21/2017



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