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Emerging lighting technologies require enhanced industry education

Thursday, October 10, 2019 - 06:00
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With offices in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., Canada, Daniel J. Stern — proprietor of the Daniel Stern Lighting consultancy — is also chief editor of Driving Vision News, a publication providing international coverage of the vehicle lighting segment.

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His areas of expertise include the field of automotive lighting science and technology, setup, regulation, development, history and modification. Stern has additionally served as an expert witness in legal matters pertaining to lighting scenarios.

“The first step is to get educated,” according to Stern.

“There are a lot of products on the automotive lighting market, most of which are claimed to be upgrades. Some of them are, but many of them are downgrades, and some of them are dangerous and illegal,” he contends.

“The technical standards and regulations to which lighting devices must conform vary by state/province and by country,” says Stern, responding to a series of questions posed by Aftermarket Business World:

Do you find that lighting systems are becoming more complex for repairers?

Yes, with more and more LEDs in more and more car lights. And simple on/off or bright/dim operation is giving way to “smart” multifunctional modes. Even the many vehicles that still use light bulbs no longer have simple circuits; everything is controlled by the vehicle’s computers. It can be a lot trickier to change the lighting system without causing errors and problems and failures.

Are aftermarket lighting systems installations and bulb-changing tasks still being accomplished by DIYers, or has it become more of a do-it-for-me job done by professional installers?

More space for people and cargo in recent vehicles means less space for car parts. Many vehicles have very difficult light bulb access requiring extensive vehicle disassembly. So there are opportunities there, but there's also a much bigger opportunity in that it's really hard to get a good headlamp aim job.

In Europe most shops have a headlamp aiming machine, but here many shops still don't have — or don't use — them. Lamp aim is the No. 1 thing determining how effective and safe the lights are. It’s all over the news as new tests are published showing most vehicles have misaimed lamps, too high and/or too low for safety, but even many dealerships just pretend to aim lamps by shining them on a marked wall, if at all.

A real headlamp aiming machine, the kind that looks like a TV camera on wheels, lets installers aim headlamps, fog lamps and driving lamps accurately, fast and easily. There are many of these machines on the market.

What are some of the more common types of headlamps currently on the market?

There are different light sources -- halogen/filament, HID/Xenon, LED, and there are various different kinds of reflector, fresnel and projector optics. The big trend is toward LED lamps, which take less power, last longer and can be smaller than filament and HID types.

Is excess headlamp glare still an issue of concern within the lighting category? What is the industry doing to address this?

Glare is getting worse as headlamps get smaller and bluer and aim still continues to be disregarded. Automakers are trying to tighten up their aiming on the assembly line in response to new tests shaming them about it, but the aftermarket situation is random and sloppy. You'll see advisories like "check your local laws" for a lot of aftermarket lighting, but that's not something most people can easily do; the laws are difficult to access and written in what looks like English but doesn't always mean what it looks like, and there's not a lot of state enforcement any more, either.

Are there new emerging headlamp technologies due to make their debut soon?

Laser diodes are the newest light source. It's possible to do some neat optical tricks with them, but you won't be able to shoot lasers at other cars -- sorry.

here's a new kind of headlight called ADB, for adaptive driving beam. It's a camera-driven system that dynamically shadows other road users out of what is otherwise a high beam pattern. The driver gets high-beam visibility, about 100 feet longer seeing distance than on low beam, while others see low-beam glare. ADB solves the century-old problem of low beams without enough seeing distance versus high beams with too much glare.

How important and complex are the lighting regulatory differences between the U.S., Europe and other nations? How big of an impact does this mean for lighting manufacturers?

The U.S. is an island with its own regulations; pretty much every other country in the world recognizes the U.N. (used to be called “European”) lighting regulations. There's overlap in the requirements for most of the various lights on a car, so for any given car it's possible to make one of whatever kind of light that's legal all over the world, but sometimes it's not possible to do so while also meeting whatever other priorities an automaker might have. They might think their customers prefer a lamp with certain appearance or performance characteristics, and that often drives different lights for the same car in different markets.

Right now, the biggest difference, and the biggest problem, is that the U.S. doesn't allow ADB, so American drivers can't access its big safety advantages. Even Canada allows it, where the regs are usually kept in close alignment with the U.S. rules. But none of this really affects the aftermarket side of things. ADB has to be built into the car; it can't be added on.

Are auxiliary lighting systems still gaining in popularity among motorists? How would you assess the popularity of aftermarket add-ons compared to OEM options?

It's a lot harder to install auxiliary lights on today's highly sculpted, plastic-fascia bumpers than it was when all vehicles had big, straight-across metal bumper bars with plenty of room to easily mount auxiliary lights.

A lot of OEM trim, technology and appearance packages include fog lamps and sometimes other auxiliary lights and lamps -- like turn signal repeaters built into the side mirrors. There's still demand for aftermarket auxiliary lights among certain segments of the vehicle enthusiast population and among owners of trucks and SUVs.

Are there new emerging auxiliary lighting technologies due to make their debut soon?

Auxiliary lighting technology is in lockstep with the technology found on primary lights.

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