Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2005   by Auto Service World

Improving Visibility: A Goal and a Strategy for Lighting

Upgrades provide opportunities and safety benefits

It is ironic that some jobbers keep their lighting offerings out of sight of the walk-in customer.

While top-drawer retailers continue to be significant players in the market both in terms of replacement and upgrades, many jobbers have yet to fully capitalize on the growing trend for upgrading headlight performance.

“From my perspective what I am seeing is a couple of things,” offers Michael Scheiven, director of the aftermarket channel for North America, Philips Automotive Lighting. “OE manufacturers are continuing to put more and more applications with long-life products. So, obviously that in itself is going to change the replacement rates from what we used to see in the past. That, however, is offset by the fact that OEMs are also putting more and more accessories into vehicles. These can generate voltage fluctuations that can severely affect the life of the bulb.”

Thrown into the mix is the evolution of daytime running lights, which have seen companies such as General Motors using separate lighting elements for the DRL requirement.

“How many are running around with a bulb burnt out? That is probably one of the key opportunities to work with installers. They should make it part of their regular multi-point check-up,” says Scheiven, adding that this is often overlooked by the car dealer service network, too.

But perhaps one of the least known facts about headlamp bulbs is just how quickly their performance degrades. Several sources indicate that standard halogen bulbs, for example, can experience a notable loss of light output in as little as a year.

Joanne McKeown, national sales manager, Automotive, Osram Sylvania Ltd., agrees that not one in ten consumers will know that their headlights’ output can dim by as much as 20% in a year.

“That is something that an installer can really take a lookout for,” she says. “They do check to make sure they are working and aligned properly, but they should look at the light output, too. Ask the consumer when they changed them last. Maybe it is time just to change them.”

Once a consumer is in the store, or in the bay for lighting replacement, a certain amount of communication has to occur. One type, the unspoken, can only happen if there are products on the shelf with accompanying shelf talkers or other point-of-sale materials.

While the transition to bulbs over headlamp units–sealed beams are dropping by about 15% a year–has limited the space to communicate with the consumer on the package, it is still judged to be among the most valuable tools for communicating the upsell benefits.

The second is the counterperson. A consumer is not often well versed in the real benefits of upgrading the bulb. While the benefits of an extended life product may be easily understood, the same does not necessarily hold true for upgrades that deliver more light. Customers may be concerned about glare, or legality.

Aside from longer-life bulbs, there are currently three basic classes of bulb upgrades, with brand names varying by manufacturer.

Upgraded halogen: Lighting output increased in the range of 30%, adding approximately 15 to 20 metres of light down the road.

Blue light: Really a misnomer, DOT-approved “blue” bulbs are really whiter than their halogen counterparts. Originally introduced to provide the look of High-Intensity Discharge lighting found on luxury vehicles, they nevertheless provide improved light quality and coverage over standard halogens.

Premium blue light: These are the closest of all to HID-type performance bulb upgrades. They provide a significant increase in driving comfort over the standard halogen.

Some consumers may be concerned about legality and glare. Communica-tion with them should focus on the fact that the lighting you are offering is DOT approved for on-road use. For the technically minded, you may want to get into a discussion of light temperature. High-performance halogen lighting has a colour temperature of approximately 4000 degrees Kelvin, which is comparable to HID lighting, which operates at 4100 degrees Kelvin. This compares favourably to standard halogen headlights, which operate at about 3200 degrees K, giving them a more yellow appearance. In fact, the bluish tint that many perceive the higher-end lights having is really a function of this characteristic; HID and “blue” halogen lights are perceived as being blue because they are less yellow. In fact, they are really closer to white, or daylight.

“In fact, that is how many police check to see if a bulb is legal. They hold a piece of white paper in front of the light and if any other colour but white shows through, they know that it’s not legal,” says McKeown.

Of course, having knowledge of the upgrades is only part of the battle. Having them in stock is an unavoidable component of success in the market. And just what the right bulbs are is changing.

While the 9004 bulb is still the biggest seller, there are significant changes occurring in the popularity list. Many automakers are moving away from the longer-life focus towards specifying bulbs with better light output. One example is the 2004 Ford Focus’ use of the 9003 bulb, which is essentially an Euro spec H4 lamp. And, perhaps surprisingly, another European bulb, the H7, is the fastest-growing headlamp number. In addition, H1 and H3 bulbs are finding their way into more and more fog lamp configurations.

It is indeed a changing market, but the goal remains a simple one: safety.

“The opportunity is really to educate the customer and the consumer on the benefits of these innovative products–and getting them to replace them with one of these products or replacing them before they burn out,” says Scheiven. “It provides a benefit to customers by enhancing their driving experience, while at the same time generating some additional profit and margin.”

Degraded Wipers are Safety Item

No matter how great the quality of the lighting installed on a vehicle, the ability of the driver and occupants to see down the road can be severely compromised if the windshield cannot be kept clear.

Bugs, dirt, and rain can all combine to degrade the safe operation of a vehicle if the quality of the windshield wiping system is not maintained.

Despite many efforts to the contrary, most consumers do not see wiper maintenance as a simple way to improve their ability to drive comfortably.

While vehicle checks in the U.S. found that 14% of vehicles had windshield wipers that failed inspection, since visual cues will reveal only a portion of failed wipers, the real number of vehicles whose wipers perform poorly is likely significantly higher.

Wipers, it is recommended, should be replaced every six months or yearly at the minimum. Generally consumers don’t think about the performance of their wipers unless it is raining, and then often only while it is actually raining, forgetting soon afterward that they had a problem.

This provides an opportunity for everyone in the aftermarket to communicate the safety aspect of proper wiper maintenance.

Stocking decisions for jobbers and service providers are made easier by assortments offered by suppliers. When discussing these with the company’s representative, however, consider those blades that have not sold through from the last assortment. Discuss any substitutions that may be possible.

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