Lighting Sets the Mood

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use little energy, have an extended lifecycle, and have outstanding color clarity.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use little energy, have an extended lifecycle, and have outstanding color clarity. Ideal, right? Well, there’s one not-trivial problem: heat. Managing the thermal footprint of an LED array, especially for pure white LEDs, is costly because of the need for fans and other systems to manage the operating temperature. This undoubtedly explains why only the likes of Lexus and Audi have developed LED-based auxiliary forward lighting systems for some of their vehicles. But what about primary lighting systems? Dave Hulick, global product manager for auxiliary lighting at Osram Sylvania (, thinks that it will be a few years before we see them, and that when we do they’ll be on limited-volume “hand-produced works of intense craftsmanship.”

One driver of forward-lighting LED systems is the design opportunities they provide given that their overall packaging requirements are less than conventional halogen or Xenon systems. “Styling is going to lead the push to this technology. There are opportunities here to make the front ends of vehicles completely different, particularly from a lighting point of view. Designers are experimenting with different LED headlight appearances, all of which are foreign to the way we style lights today,” Hulick says.

 Meanwhile, on the inside of vehicles, interior designers are embracing LEDs for ambient lighting. GM will take a huge step forward in the application of LED ambient lighting with the introduction of the 2008 Cadillac CTS, utilizing the technology to light the foot wells, door pulls and other locations throughout the cabin. “If you look at what we have done with the CTS, the focus of our lighting strategy is not part of the instrumentation, but it focuses on setting the mood,” says John Manoogian, who headed up the CTS design effort.

The effect of using lighting to create an ambiance has taken root in the retail and entertainment sectors of the economy. Now it’s time for automakers to follow their lead. Manoogian says GM is the process of finalizing plans to develop ambient lighting systems for all of its brands, with a focus on using LED systems. “Each brand needs to have a very strong definition as to what the brand stands for. If you look at where Pontiac is positioned in the GM portfolio, for instance, that would require a younger and hipper appearance, while Cadillac would have to be more high-end and subdued.”

Manoogian agrees with Osram’s Hulick that forward-lighting LED systems will progress along to adoption in the next few years, calling the technology “one of the new frontiers” for designers. “The technology is so limitless from our point of view. Lighting design will help to better identify a car at night.”—KMK