Rise of LED Lights in Automotive: Indispensable Lighting Tech!


The lighting sector came into existence when the first electric bulb was invented to dramatically brighten up the lives of people. A few decades later, the sector moved towards more improvements when tungsten filament bulbs emerged. These bulbs went on to provide power to households and helped new businesses like automotive generate revenues for more than a century. Incandescent bulbs soon came in to revolutionize the world.

The legendary Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost and the Cadillac Model 30 were the first cars to receive electric headlights in their standard package. Even though electric incandescent lights were discovered back in the 19th century, cars still required a DC generator. Thus, incandescent headlights started appearing only on premium automobiles in the mid-1910s. These found wide application across the automotive industry only in the 1920s.

However, later on, with the emergence of environmentally-conscious governments and consumers, these electricity-sapping glass orbs fell out of favor and were replaced by compact fluorescent lamp bulbs, which are commonly known as CFL bulbs. These were considered to be the most significant alternative to traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs in the mid-2000s. But, once again, CFL bulbs gradually phased out as these failed to comply with strict government standards for energy efficiency

And then, light-emitting diode bulbs or LED bulbs came into relevance, which marked a significant change in the lighting industry. LED bulbs started gaining high popularity owing to their better quality and more energy efficiency, as compared to CFL bulbs. But how were LED lights invented? The answer may surprise any lighting fanatic! 

A viable working version of LED technology came into existence back in 1962. It was invented by Nick Holonyak Jr., a 33-year-old General Electric (GE) scientist. Back at that time, GE named it ‘the magic one.’ The original device that was invented by Nick Holonyak Jr. has an inscription saying ‘the magic one, GaAsP.’

GaAsP or Gallium Arsenide Phosphide refers to the semiconducting material that was utilized in the first LED. Holonyak realized the potential of LED lighting technology right after its invention. LEDs first got their start as indicator lights for small electrical equipment and circuit boards back in the 1960s. In the 1980s, they became more reliable and brighter and were thus used for outdoor applications like traffic lights, as well as in automotive. 

Today’s vehicle headlights are a world away from the oil lamps or acetylene of yesterday. Modern LED lights can save drivers money over the lifetime of a vehicle and offer a wide range of vision. The earliest headlights were invented in the 1880s and were propelled by oil or acetylene. 

Acetylene lamps were popular among automakers as the flame was highly resistant to rain and wind. Automakers had also started placing mirrors behind the flame to focus the light forwards. But, this technique made acetylene lamps less effective at night as the light scattered into the night sky rather than being directed at the road or an object ahead. After rigorous research and development activities, LED lights were first installed on mass-production vehicles in 1993 and LED headlights were developed in the 2000s. 

The first LED lights, for instance, were used in the daytime running light (DRL) assembly of the Audi A8 in 2004. These lights consumed little energy to produce a bright stream of light. Similarly, in 2006, the Lexus LS 600h was the first vehicle to utilize LED low beams. In 2007, the V10 Audi R8 was considered to be the first-ever car to include front-to-rear LED lights.

How is LED Technology Dramatically Transforming the Lighting Industry?

Today, LED technology is extensively used for residential, commercial, and industrial applications. Their capabilities have surged at a rapid pace. Today’s LED lights have high energy efficiency, more brightness, and longer lifespans compared to their conventional counterparts. The expansion of LED technology has resulted in the introduction of various government standards & programs, industry best practices, and the development of warranties.

In October 2022, for instance, the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust was provided £32,948,518 by the U.K. government for upgrading New Cross Hospital. The funds will be used to install LED lighting, plate heat exchangers, heating pipework insulation, steam trap replacements, and double glazing. Similarly, the government pledged £2,600,727 to Darlaston Leisure Center for initiating energy renovation. The facility will soon install new fans, LED lighting, and energy management systems with the given funds.

Further, as the conservation of resources is the need of the hour in the world at present, LEDs have nowadays become a staple in the automotive industry. LED lights utilize 30-75% less power, as compared to other light sources, as well as have an efficiency level of 80-90%. Thus, almost all the energy is converted into light and is not lost as heat. The automotive LED sector is estimated to witness the entry of various international and regional companies offering unique products.  

In September 2020, for instance, Osram, a German company that makes electric lights, introduced a new generation of 1 to 4-chip versions in the Oslon Compact PL product family to expand its automotive LED product portfolio. The company also reported a settlement with Lextar, its contract manufacturer. 

The new version contains an electrically insulated pad and ceramic components that would make it easier to dissipate heat from the package. The design would further enable a higher current to allow the novel version to achieve an exceptional brightness value of 395 lumens. 

Similarly, in September 2022, ams OSRAM and TactoTek joined hands to develop a demonstrator with an innovative RGB side-looker LED OSIRE E5515. It can be easily integrated into the automotive interior to get a space-saving design. Both companies are aiming to enhance possibilities for future automotive interior illumination by blending side-looking automotive RGB LEDs in smart, thin structures by utilizing a state-of-the-art in-mold process.

From Enhancing Driving Experience to Monitoring Plant Growth: LED Lights Have Come a Long Way!

Over the past twenty years, LEDs have significantly become the lighting products of choice for homeowners, contractors, and governments that are looking for energy-efficient systems to reduce the overall cost of electricity. Although it was invented in 1962, LED technology did not proceed to the point where the lights became applicable to several industries until the 1980s.

Technology has rapidly evolved since that time and today, government bodies and private firms are constantly adopting LEDs as they have exceeded numerous traditional lighting technologies in terms of color quality, versatility, lifespan, and energy efficiency. Owing to their high-cost competitiveness, LED lights are being increasingly installed in a wide range of end-use industries. 

Going beyond the lighting applications of LEDs, their usage has been gaining momentum in the automotive sector. Next-generation LED lights can produce high color temperatures for illumination and optimum visibility, as well as provide a high-intensity white light, which helps to lower the mental fatigue and eye strain of drivers. Several leading companies are striving to come up with new LED lights with high safety and visibility features worldwide.

In April 2021, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., a renowned provider of unique digital components, for instance, launched a new automotive LED module called PixCell LED, which is mainly optimized for intelligent headlights, including adaptive driving beam (ADB) systems. ADB can enhance driver safety and visibility to improve the overall driving experience, especially in poor weather conditions such as heavy rain or fog, as well as at night. 

LED lighting is nowadays considered to be a natural choice in automotive applications on the back of its environment-friendliness and inherent energy efficiency. It also aids with the development of creative lighting designs that improve the aesthetics of a vehicle.

In February 2022, Maruti Suzuki India introduced a teaser video to give a glimpse of Baleno’s new LED tail lights. The new-generation Baleno premium hatchback has redesigned LED taillamps. The new ones look much sharper than the ones present in the existing model.

Moreover, the development potential of LED lights is far beyond the applications of general daily life or IT products. The use of LEDs in the agriculture sector can increase crop yields efficiently. Today’s modern LED lights can control numerous spectra and colors, as well as adjust light sources as per varied spectrum requirements at different stages of plant growth. 

Various start-up companies are likely to enter the agriculture LED light space in the next ten years. Sollum Technologies, for instance, is a manufacturer of lighting solutions, especially for the agriculture industry. It delivers a blend of LED hardware and a programmable platform that enables users to choose the right light spectrum. The lighting solution provides real-time information about optimal growing conditions. Thus, LED technology is set to find its extensive application in both the automotive and agriculture industry in the next ten years.

The LED industry is set to take lead when it comes to making frequent breakthroughs, creating new technologies, and driving innovation. The industry has exhibited a major transformation over the past decade. Some of the trends that are expected to be witnessed by the LED industry are:

  • Incorporation of Intelligent Solutions: LED lights are projected to continue to mark their entry into the automotive industry owing to their benefits, including felicitation of safer driving and improved brightness. Automotive manufacturers are focusing on incorporating intelligence into their existing lighting systems. They are also adopting unique technology like adaptive driving beams for improving the safety of drivers.
  • IoT-based Smart Lighting: Facility managers and business owners are expected to incorporate smart lighting systems equipped with the internet of things (IoT) as part of the building management system (BMS). These smart-systems would help businesses to set a schedule for the lights to save energy and reduce costs. 
  • Human-Centric LED Lighting: Builders, designers, and architects are set to increasingly adopt human-centric lighting to enable workers to become more productive and efficient. LED-based human-centric lighting (HCL) provides several potential benefits in workspaces and offices, thereby surging the value for occupants in the environment. 

What are the Challenges That Lighting Designers Face with LEDs?

LED lights don’t always live up to manufacturers’ label claims in real-life applications. The strong glare and shadowing of luminaires often prove to be problematic. Future lighting trends may include frequent replacements of the chip on board (COB) with surface-mount LEDs to lower shadowing. 

Besides, the lack of LED industry norms associated with data presentation and color-correlated temperature (CCT) is expected to continue to challenge designers when it comes to selecting the right bulbs for various projects. Lighting designers can end up with legal responsibilities, including a damaged reputation or fines if the labels are misleading. 

Apart from that, lighting designers often face issues with the dimmable capabilities of LEDs. Dimmable LEDs often dim in steps that appear choppy, as compared to traditional lighting. Thus, these lights fail to perform according to expectations. LED color tuning technologies also need to be adjustable as different cultures have different color temperature preferences. The Japanese, for instance, prefer a cooler white. 

Is the Future of LED Technology Bright in the Automotive Sector?

Considering the benefits provided by high-power LEDs, traditional lights like xenon and halogen are expected to take a backseat in automotive applications. Even though the initial cost of installation of LED lights is higher than conventional lights, their operational costs are much lower. Also, optimization and standardization of LED modules have brought down their cost at a fast pace.

In the automotive industry, LED lights are anticipated to make their way onto rear view mirrors and dashboards, apart from just taillights and headlights in the next decade. These lights are also set to be penetrated the field of smaller vehicles. 

Furthermore, as compared to halogen lamps, LED lights generate less heat, as well as provide brighter illumination, which helps in reducing road accidents. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 1.3 million people die every year due to road traffic accidents worldwide. 

Thus, governments of various countries are taking numerous steps to reduce the above-mentioned number. Such initiatives are expected to encourage automotive manufacturers to install LED lights on their vehicles to ensure the high safety of both the driver and passengers, thereby boosting the industry. 

For instance, in August 2021, the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) of Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts (CPA) launched two funding opportunities for the county and local governments. The first funding initiative includes a grant of nearly US$ 75,000 per application and it will help counties and cities to replace conventional lighting equipment with LED lights. The second initiative contains a grant amount of up to US$ 9,000 per successful application and it would enable local and county governments to install level 2 electric vehicle charging stations.

As per a report by Fact.MR, the global automotive LED light market is projected to reach a valuation of US$ 14.7 Billion by the end of 2032. Growth is likely to be attributed to the high demand for luxury vehicles in both developed and developing countries worldwide. Apart from that, the penetration of LED lights into the interiors of automobiles, including backlighting LED displays, is expected to take the automotive LED industry to a whole new level in the next ten years.

About the author:

Shubham Patidar is an experienced research consultant at Fact.MR, He is a Client Partner at Fact.MR, with a proven experience in market research & consulting industry and has been closely working on technology vertical.