There is no doubt that the lighting market has been subject to some serious change over the years, in terms of both technology and style.
Most of us can probably still remember when the choices of lighting were square or round, sealed beam or, well, sealed beam. Then came halogen sealed beams, then bulbs, and now there are a whole host of lighting options populating the market that can allow consumers to upgrade both what they see and how their car looks.
Still, the conventional replacement market remains an important segment.
“That’s never going to go away,” Craig Moffat, North American sales manager, Hamsar Diversco says.
“It’s good business for any jobber, whether retail or wholesale,” even if it may behave as a commodity item. “Then there is the upgrade, which is the better margin, high profit segment.”
And this is one area that takes a bit of work, but comes with more help.
“It is usually one that takes a bit of selling. It gets backed up with advertising to make consumers aware, particularly the younger consumer, the enthusiast.”
Youth are the high-margin customer, if you will, so that is the target market.
“The sport compact owner, the younger kids, are doing the upgrades,”says Moffat, adding that his company is launching a Xenon product that gives the look of HID without the cost.
“It’s geared toward the upgrade sport compact or the older driver.”
Not often capitalized on is that older, more pragmatic upgrade customer–who can benefit from the 30% to 60% improvement in light from the upgrade, but who cares less about what others may think.
For the youth, the more common factor is to be seen as much as to see. This is an outgrowth of the California-born sport compact revolution that has focused largely on Asian import cars.
While those cars, particularly Honda vehicles, remain a key subject of customization in Canada, Hella Inc.’s Siggie Tigges, national sales manager for Canada, sees a Canadian flavour to the market here.
“The mentality is different, especially for European cars in Canada,” says Tigges, pointing particularly to the Quebec market. “The consumer is going away from Asian imports to more European cars, especially VW.” Behind VW products like the Jetta and Golf in popularity are BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz models.
He says that in the same way as the upper-end imports are being selected by enthusiasts, so are upper-end accessories.
“The overall response that I have is that people know that there is a lot of lower-cost product coming in, but there is a growing trend to people buying quality. They’re not as interested in product that won’t last through a rainy season in B.C.”
The European accessory look is somewhat different than the Asian sensibility: less carved, more smooth flowing, with blackout-type taillights rather than clear. The object remains the same, however.
“I think people are trying to be different.”
The inventory profile of the average jobber may tend toward the domestic, but when it comes to high-margin lighting upgrades, having a strong European and Asian import mix is important. Tigges says putting inventory in and displaying it in a way that will attract sales takes commitment.
“Certain Canadian businesses are open enough to entertain something new. That is a little bit different from the U.S. approach, where they tend to be more driven by just volume.”
Derek Chen, an award-winning car builder and irrepressible enthusiast for the sport compact market, is just the type of customer he is talking about. He builds cars for himself and with his associates, who make up the Bridgestone R Squadron.
“The thing is that it is not so much that it is a necessity, but for the show aspect it makes it look better.” When the builders of sport compact show cars think lighting, they go well beyond the exterior. They focus on all sorts of accent lighting. “At a show like Hot Import Nights events, where the lights are basically turned out like it was a night club, no matter how nice it is, your car would go unnoticed without it.
“For the audio system, just a few lights here and there can really accent the different components. And the same with the interior. If you have an aftermarket interior, it is little things here and there. A car that is lit up properly looks a lot better.”
He does understand the importance of exterior lighting, though.
“Especially since the cars are all lowered, it throws off the beam pattern of the headlights,” he says, necessitating the addition of fog lights, driving lights, or complete retrofit assemblies. “Another thing is that they pretty much draw your attention to the front of the car, making it seem lower than it really is.
“You can get them in custom applications where certain ones only fit certain models’ bumpers; it looks like factory. Then there are ones that you can tell that they are bolted on. One of the biggest crazes is the [clear] taillights. Those put a lot of companies in business. It was a modification that was relatively cheap. A guy can do it in his garage in 20 minutes.”
He says the latest trend to High Intensity Discharge lighting is separating the serious tuner from the dabbler.
“It costs a lot but you never have to change it. You get your money’s worth. The driving experience with HID lights over conventional is two different worlds. You get to see everything in the road. It cuts right through whatever you’re driving in.”
He does say that the use of HID lighting and other accessory options has caused some issues with law enforcement officials, who have tried on a number of occasions to have them deemed illegal, even though they are not.
“I think there is a lot of educational work to do on that end,” says Hella’s Tigges. “I just came back from Manitoba where the police were trying to ban all clear auxiliary lights. They felt that whatever was clear was illegal. They had to take that back, because it does meet the standards.”
He says that there needs to be a concerted effort by all in the market to get the information into the catalogues, and get that disseminated to the jobber level so that they in turn can explain the issues to customers.
Chen says that the market is fragmented. “One thing that you notice, at least in the Canadian scene, is that there are different kinds of individuals. There are guys who will do everything for $1,000 versus the guy who will take $1,000 and buy one thing. It all depends on your end goals.”
Top ranked cars are built slowly using $30K to $40K worth of parts. Obviously the quality is different. Anyone who tells you that it looks the same–well, looks can be deceiving. You can tell right away.
“They’re not really the hard-core enthusiasts. Just because a guy doesn’t have the cash doesn’t make him a bad person, but it does put him on the other side of the fence in terms of competition. He won’t be winning trophies.”
Of course, not everyone is looking to win trophies; some just want a little more light and a little more pizzazz.
“That sport compact market is into the look of the vehicle. So coming up with the kind of look that those people are having is important,” says JoAnn McKeown, national sales manager for automotive, Osram Sylvania, which has recently introduced its Silver Star bulb.
“It gives a much whiter light. It is more of a high-end look. To get the look of the HID with just changing a bulb is the whole idea. HID is very expensive and not everybody can put it on their vehicle.”
She says the early adopters may have been the tuner market, but it doesn’t end there. “The market that we’re targeting is the baby boomers. The whole idea is to get people to upgrade their bulbs to higher-performance before they burn out.”
She says it pays the consumer back with better performance, but the higher-performance bulb has a higher replacement rate.
“The OEMs will put in a long-life bulb and the consumer goes and puts five years on it. These high-performance bulbs will last one to two years. When you increase the performance, something has to give. The better the performance, the shorter the life.”
Helping to move consumers to the better-p erforming product can increase replacement rates, plus dollar profit per unit. A win-win if you will. To capitalize, though, you have to think retail.
“It is a retail type product; you have to be able to display it. The display is critical.” She says her company has a counter display appropriate for jobbers’ limited space.
Tigges and Moffat both agree that stocking and displaying product, with the added possibility of in-store demonstrators, can help to move lighting products, especially those of the accessory variety.
Indoor displays will play a major role in the future. Tigges says that it is important for customers to feel comfortable. “You don’t want to walk through aisles and aisles. You want to be able to play around and be around something interesting–and then rely on the counter staff to put the order together.”
And that part has never changed.
GLARING ERRORS IN HID COMPLAINTS
While the drivers of cars equipped with High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights get the benefit of the best automotive lighting technology currently available, other drivers have complained.
For some reason, the HID light is perceived as being brighter and more annoying, a perception that is only partially borne out by research.
In a recent study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) the differences reported between halogen versus HID lamps caused a small but statistically significant difference in discomfort glare noted by observers.
However, it had no effect on disability glare. It is not known yet whether it is the difference in spectral power density of these headlamps, but this difference in the human eye’s glare response to these different lamp designs is shown in that study.
The light spectrum of HID is not as smooth as the light from a heated filament in a halogen lamp. It is possible that our eyes are not necessarily reacting to the whiter light, but to the high-energy spikes that rise above background energy achieving the white light. If this is a cause for the UMTRI findings, it may be that a redesign of the HID system is necessary.
In the U.S., NHTSA is reportedly initiating research to study all potential factors that may be causing HIDs to be an annoying lighting source.
In the meantime, proper aiming should be made a priority for all headlights, both HID and conventional halogen.