Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2009   by Andrew Ross

LED Lighting Leading Way In Heavy-Duty Market Opportunities

Twenty years after the LED marker lamp debuted, uses for the technology continue to expand.

As troubling as the outlook may be for automakers, the drop in passenger car sales pales in comparison to heavy truck sales, which had already been lagging, then virtually screeched to a halt in the last year. This, of course, may be good news for the aftermarket.

Long accustomed to the cyclical nature of the business, truck manufacturers suffered several setbacks, not the least of which is the general economic climate, which hobbled both the ability of firms and owner/operators to purchase trucks, as well as the need for them in the first place. And, of course, there was the credit market crunch, which didn’t help at all.

In addition, many trucks were purchased prior to U.S. EPA 07 cleaner diesel technologies entering the market–the near-legendary “pre-buy”–which had always been expected to create a lag in demand, a fact that has only been exacerbated by the current business environment.

All this boils down to the fact that the truck fleet is aging, spelling opportunities for jobbers. In particular, this affects the replacement and upgrade market for lighting. With this consideration, there are a number of opportunities climbing into the market.

“That’s what they were projecting at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week [in Las Vegas this past January],” says Mark Assenmacher, sales and marketing manager for Peterson Manufacturing Co. “There was an analyst who went over the OEM production [and concluded] that we should see a bump on the aftermarket side.”

Further to this point, he offers that some significant opportunities have developed.

“What we’re having some success with, from a fleet standpoint, is a complete system: lighting and harness combined. That qualifies [the product] for a better warranty, rather than individual parts specifying.

“But from the aftermarket standpoint, there is the built-in replacement rate, which is breakage.”

Of course, when a light is broken, it can be replaced with an identical unit, but increasingly there are LED options for virtually every conceivable application.

“Before recent times, they needed a market light; you’d have a two-inch round or a two-and-a-half and that was about it,” says Assenmacher. “You had six or seven different footprints.

“Now with LEDs you can do a lot more–kind of the sky’s the limit.”

LED interior lamps and accessory lamps rank high on the list. The latest along this line from Peterson is the PM LED 274 Tunnel Light, which is slated to hit the market this summer. The two-inch round grommet- mount light joins its surface-mount cousin, the 179.

“It can fit down air breathers, visors, all chrome accessories. It will play big in the aftermarket, but it’s an accessory light only. When it’s off it looks stealthy, with a mirrored finish.”

Further to the upgrade theme, two of the other leaders in the market, Grote Manufacturing and Truck- Lite, have both introduced new LED products to the market, but at two opposite ends of the spectrum.

From Truck-Lite Co. is the 7-inch round LED headlamp that, according to the company, is the first 12-volt LED headlamp of its kind in the market.

“It can fit into any hole that is that size,” says Truck-Lite’s Sherry White. “It replaces the traditional halogen round.” Applications for the light go beyond just the heavy truck market. “It can go into class 8 trucks and it can go into the automotive market; the Jeep market and classic cars, like Mustangs; any place that you can traditionally put a 7-inch round.

“It has been getting a lot of press in the classic car and the off-road markets, because of the clarity of the light output.”

White says that the concept got its start in the military, where the lights have been tested in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“As far as technology goes, LEDs have been out in the marketplace for 20 years. From the heavy-duty side of things, you could get an LED product that could fit any hole in the truck except for the headlamp. This is the first of its kind within the industry.

“And now that we have them, for me, having been with Truck-Lite for 22 years, this is one of the most exciting releases since we introduced LEDs to the marketplace.”

It’s hard to deny that there’s some sizzle to the product, and its far-reaching application nature could see its popularity going well beyond the truck market, but the utility of improved forward lighting and life–more than 50,000 hours–at a cost premium that is significant, but still less than full-out HID options, is worthy of note. And it’s plug and play. And, also of note, White says that the 4- inch by 6-inch version is coming soon.

But as fascinating as that new technology into an old hole may be, perhaps the most innovative approach to LED technology comes from Grote. Its LightForm technology, unveiled in March at the Mid-America Trucking Show, features a thin-film mounting of the LED light source.

The lighting structure–though it hardly qualifies as a “structure”–can be twisted or bent, and is thin enough to be mounted using a peel-and-stick method. According to the company, FMVSS 108 photometric requirements can be met for a P2-rated market lamp with the technology using only 2% of the material, and eliminating drilling, mounting brackets, and traditional fasteners.

It is, to be sure, a significant next step for LED lighting technology, though the market will have to wait for its wide release to see just how significant it will be for the aftermarket.

In the here and now, though, LEDs are sure to become an increasing part of your arsenal, particularly in the face of an aging truck fleet.

“Right now because people are hanging on to their trucks and trailers longer, there are a lot of aftermarket opportunities,” says Assenmacher. “And there are always the retrofit and upgrade opportunities for fleets that are still using incandescent bulbs. There is a host of new applications. People are finding more and more uses for LED lighting, whether for accessory lighting or to perform a function.

“There are just tremendous opportunities.”

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