Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2005   by Dennis Mellersh

Lighting Industry Focus On Eliminating Non-Compliant Products

The lighting aftermarket came under the glare of unprecedented scrutiny recently, sparking a controversy that continues to flare up.

The Certified Automotive Parts Association (CAPA) released a report in 2004 asserting that its testing had shown that several headlamp components being sold in the United States failed to meet the photometric requirements of the U.S. federal standard applicable to automotive lighting products, standards that are echoed by Canadian regulations.

As reported in Jobber News late last year, some insurance companies consequently suspended the use of some products in repairing damaged vehicles. In addition, some suppliers withdrew products from the distribution chain.

The validity of CAPA’s published results was questioned immediately not only by the companies involved, but also by additional industry stakeholders involved with replacement lighting and reflective products, including the Manufacturers’ Qualification and Validation program (MQVP).

CAPA’s report added new fuel to the growing fire of the lighting products non-compliance issue. While a parallel dispute on whether CAPA testing is valid continues–some industry members say it lacks the proper methodology–the issue of headlight compliance is just one facet of the issue, and viewed by many as less important than other product issues.

Much of the focus of efforts has turned to LED stop-, tail- and turn-lights and reflectors used in the heavy-duty truck market.

Looking at the overall issue of non-compliance, research points to the fact that the main factor which needs to be addressed is not primarily the potential, occasional, and inadvertent manufacturing of non-compliant products by companies who are taking all possible due manufacturing diligence.

Rather, the big problem appears to emanate from those less rigorous and responsible suppliers who are flooding the North American market with consistently non-compliant product. In fact, these non-compliant products may even be marked as SAE or DOT approved, according to the Transportation Safety Equipment Institute (TSEI).

The primary concern with the lighting non-compliance issue is consumer safety.

Without doubt the single most important safety factor for anyone driving heavy-duty trucks, light trucks, and passenger vehicles at night or in poor visibility conditions is the quality of the vehicle’s lighting devices and systems. This includes headlamps, taillights, marker lights, and reflective devices.

Recognizing this, leading automotive aftermarket suppliers of replacement lighting and reflective products bring tremendous due diligence to bear in manufacturing quality products that meet or exceed mandated standards for these products. Stringent quality control systems such as the ISO series of manufacturing standards and other manufacturing disciplines are among the tools these manufacturers use to ensure that their products comply with the required specifications.

The particular standard involved in lighting is the United States Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 108, which applies to lighting, reflective devices and associated equipment. It establishes minimum safety performance standards applying to all motor vehicles and automotive lighting equipment. The standard covers a number of factors including appearance, fit, materials, photometrics, durability and aiming devices.

An industry executive who also holds a senior committee position within TSEI says the standard “identifies the number of lights required per vehicle, and the minimum performance requirements of the lights. It is written so that manufacturers can self-certify that they meet the requirements . . . there is a companion document in Canada, CMVSS 108, and a technical standard 108. They are administered by Transport Canada.”

To draw attention to the non-compliance issue, the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) and its safety product group, TSEI, offered a seminar titled What You Need to Know About Non-Compliant Products at the recent Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) in Las Vegas. In announcing the seminar, MEMA noted that in 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recalled thousands of non-compliant tail lamps, and in 2003 recalled 11,000 non-compliant emergency warning triangles.

In addition to concerns about clear-cut non-compliance of replacement lighting and reflective products with the standard, there is a further issue of interpretation. One industry organization source quoted by MEMA says, “Standard 108 has been amended frequently though a process of haphazard amendments . . . as a result of these piecemeal amendments, Standard 108 has become extremely difficult to understand and interpret.”

There is currently an ongoing industry effort with the U.S. government to settle on clear and unequivocal specifications and requirements within the standard. Some of the issues raised in the interpretation scenario can be reviewed in the [United States] Federal Register / Vol. 69, No. 195 / Friday, October 8, 2004 / Notices.

On the interpretation issue, TSEI says, “The current and arbitrary nature of Standard 108 makes it difficult for manufacturers to properly interpret and develop consistent design compliance guidelines for their products. One senior NHTSA official called the current standard “incomprehensible” at a public industry meeting. “The rewrite of Standard 108 will far outweigh the minimal costs to finish the project. A clear standard will make enforcement easier and will significantly reduce the agency’s need to constantly reinterpret the standard each time a question arises.”

A secondary problem, according to a senior lighting company engineering executive, is that legitimate manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, invest in resources to design, test and manufacture their lighting products to meet or exceed the standard. “A manufacturer that puts a product on the market that does not meet the standard naturally has a [unfair] price competitive advantage over those that invest in the resources. TSEI’s stand is to level the playing field. Member companies will take their chances competing with products from anywhere if the same rules apply. They cannot compete however with a product that, for instance, has half the required LEDs in it.”

Considering all of this, where is this issue headed for the future?

Overall, the problem of non-compliance is described by many in the industry as potentially “huge.” At least one leading industry source reluctantly comments that the problem may well get worse before it gets better. He describes it as being analogous to a sporting event. If the referees do not enforce the rules, then “violations will grow until there is chaos,” bringing with it with the distinct possibility of deterioration into a “complete debacle.”

Much will depend on the effectiveness of industry and government cooperation and on the will and ability of regulatory agencies in enforcement, but there are positive signs on the horizon, including the current cooperative and proactive government-industry dialogue and the fact that staffing at the regulatory/enforcement level is slated to increase.

Moreover, in the past, leading aftermarket supply players have worked very effectively with government to solve troublesome issues.

There are strong signs that successfully resolving the issue of non-compliance in lighting and reflective products could be another successful example of such teamwork.

Shedding light on non-compliance

In preparing this article, Jobber News received excellent cooperation from lighting and reflective products manufacturers and industry associations. However, the standard is currently undergoing reevaluation, which includes the involvement of significant industry input including presentations and submissions.

Suppliers contacted and interviewed by Jobber News did not want to be quoted by name or company for this particular report. Accordingly, for this article, Jobber News has relaxed its normal practice of insisting on specific attribution of sources.

The article does not focus on aftermarket performance and accessory lighting and reflective products, such as high-intensity discharge lighting products, although these categories can also involve standards and regulations. Nor are we reviewing the issue of counterfeit lighting products in this article.

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *