Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2008   by Auto Service World

Watching the Visibility Market

Changes in Technology and Legality Worth Looking Out For

Significant changes appear to be looming when it comes to the traditional way in which aftermarket suppliers have handled the lighting market. If you’ll recall, the September 2007 issue of Jobber News reported on the Dos and Don’ts of lighting sales, and listed the following suggestions:

“Do watch the growing LED market for updates. There will be a lot of new designs in LED tail lamps over the next few months. Watch for LED headlamps; they are coming. LED tail lamps use much less electricity than conventional tail lamps, and with no filaments to wear out, they may last the life of your vehicle.

“Don’t overstate the prevalence of them just yet. The LED lighting market is still just beginning to take off. There is a lot left that can be done with LED technology in terms of styling, performance, and safety.”

Well, while the first tip is still mostly accurate, the line about LED headlamps coming should be changed to ” are here”.What’s more, the ” Don’t” shouldnow read: Don’t underestimate the prevalence of LEDs.

Hella, a supplier of automotive lighting and electronic equipment, announced recently that it is providing the first full LED headlamps for General Motors in North America on the 2008 model Cadillac Escalade Platinum.

In this new, upscale sport utility vehicle, LED technology for low- and high-beam functionswill be used for the very first time in North America. Production of the Cadillac Escalade Platinum is expected to begin in the summer of 2008. Approval for usage of LEDs in low- and high-beam lightingin Europe is expected by 2008, as well.

“The Cadillac Escalade Platinum will be the first high-volume vehicle in the world to be equipped with Hella’s Full- LED headlamps,” says Steve Widdett, executive vice-president, automotive sales, Hella Corporate Center USA. “This marks a significant milestone in advanced automotive lighting applications.”

According to Hella, LED headlamps emit light considerably closer to daylight, improving perception when driving during twilight and darkness, as well as increasing overall driver comfort and safety.

“Hella is using newly developed multi-chip LEDs as light sources for low-and high-beam,” says Widdett. “LED technology makes new lighting functions possible, opening up new, innovative styling and differentiation potential for vehicle manufacturers.”

The low-beam light section of the headlamp is generated by five optical units arranged underneath one another and situated at the outer edge of the headlamp housing. The low-beam light is responsible for close-range illumination in front of the vehicle. The daytime running function is achieved by dimming the same five optical units of the low-beam.

The remaining two identical optical units in the headlamp are responsible for high-beam light and are situated at the inner edge of the headlamp housing.

Also utilizing LED technology, position lights are placed vertically between the low-beam and the side marker, which is located on the very outer edge of the headlamp. In the 2008 model Cadillac Escalade Platinum, direction indicators and fog lamps are mounted in the lower area of the bumper. Within the United States, LED lighting technology for secondary lighting functions, such as the position lights and direction indicators, is becoming more common in automotive lighting, Widdett notes. What’s more, Hella says its Full- LED headlamps last up to 20 times longer than traditional automotive lighting, which will undoubtedly have an impact on the replacement-driven aftermarket.

As has been previously mentioned, the LED revolution should not come as a shock to anyone, given what market researchers have been indicating for some time now. “Automotive systems seem to be evolving away from incandescent and halogen bulbs to LEDs and HID. It is happening slowly, but some day there will be no more light bulbs in cars and trucks,” says Frost & Sullivan research analyst Stephen Spivey. As has become quite apparent with the pending launch of the LED-outfitted Cadillac, automakers are deploying LEDs in greater quantities as standard equipment on new vehicle models. Common for several years in the centre high-mounted stoplight, LEDs are now found increasingly in tail lights, turn signals, and in interior applications like dome lights and dashboard lights.

“Upgrading production capacity to compete in LEDs will be vital to future aftermarket sales as the number of LEDs carried by new vehicles continues to rise and the number of standard bulbs carried by new vehicles continues to decline,” explains Spivey. “In addition, suppliers must understand how to use the LED platform to develop innovative products that cause people to want to replace their factory-installed LEDs with an aftermarket product. Without both of these capabilities, manufacturers of incandescent and halogen lighting will see their markets get smaller over time.”

On the Legal Front

South of the border, the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), the Transportation Safety Equipment Institute (TSEI), and the Motor Vehicle Lighting Council (MVLC) jointly submitted a petition asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to reconsider certain changes made to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) No. 108, which specifies requirements for motor vehicle lighting. Seeing as lighting requirements are often very similar on both sides of the 49th, significant alterations made there are obviously important to keep apprised of here as well.

“MEMA, TSEI, and MVLC thank NHTSA for completing the complex task of rewriting the lighting regulations to create a more user-friendly standard, which should lead to increased compliance and enhanced motor vehicle safety,” said Ann Wilson, senior vice-president of government affairs for MEMA, in the petition. “However, there are several areas within the final rule where substantive changes have been made that warrant further action from NHTSA,” she added.

One major issue, according to the report, was the alteration of regulations regarding turn signal lamps for use in various-sized vehicles. “In its comments, the Associations requested that the Agency add language to clarify that turn signal lamps and stop lamps designed for use on vehicles 2032 mm or more in overall width, that meet the one-lighted section photometric values, may be used on narrower vehicles.” The report went on to cite several instances when the law was interpreted in this way, and asked the agency to rethink its decision. “This change, if not reconsidered, will immediately and significantly affect suppliers and vehicle manufacturers. Manufacturers of generic catalog products do not typically know the types of vehicles (wide or narrow) on which their products will be installed. The current approach allows manufacturers to certify their products to one standard and to manufacture and maintain an inventory of a single part that can be universally installed. The wording in the Final Rule compels manufacturers to develop and maintain a supply of an entirely new series of products for the under-2032 mm (80 in) market segment, at significant additional costs. Vehicle manufacturers and fleet owners will also incur substantial cost due to added complexity and inventory costs associated with incorporating both types of lamps into their various models and across their fleets. These costs come with no demonstrated safety benefit.” Seeing as the manufacturers themselves have serious inventory concerns when it comes to potentially having to fabricate stock multiple sizes, jobbers too should take note given their own inventory issues.

In their final comment, the authors of the petition said, “The Associations urge the Agency to grant this petition and address the above-referenced issues. Addressing these issues will lead to better compliance by limiting ambiguities and allowing the new generation of lighting engineers and professionals to develop a clear understanding of legal requirements
and directives.

“This Final Rule represents an essential and first step in modernizing FMVSS 108.

“The Associations will continue working with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute on the development of performance-based lighting standards. The Associations also look forward to working with the Agency on future rulemaking to modernize FMVSS 108 to reflect significant developments in lighting technology since these issues were beyond the scope of this administrative rewrite.”

Given the significant changes that now appear imminent in terms of the proliferation of LED technology, as well as the various legal challenges that seem to constantly swirl around this market, jobbers and counterpeople would be wise to watch this segment closely. And while it remains true that a wholesale switch to LED technology has yet to materialize, its growing popularity will almost certainly be worth tracking over the coming months.