We are in the midst of a lighting revolution in the automotive industry that started with the proliferation of light-emitting diodes (LEDs). More dramatic lighting innovations are fast emerging, such as laser diodes, organic LEDs, and dynamic bending light headlamps. Historically, new automotive technologies have always first manifested themselves in luxury brands, then migrated downward to lower trim level models and non-retail customers such as the vocational work truck market.
Lighting is an important productivity and safety feature in the vocational fleet market. Think about it. A work truck may be equipped with the latest auxiliary equipment, but the value of these assets is diminished if they cannot be used productively in a safe, well-lit work environment. Traditional lighting options in vocational trucks are incandescent and halogen lights, along with high-intensity discharge (HID) xenon lamps. However, during the past decade, there has been an ongoing migration away from traditional 12-volt incandescent lights to LED lighting in upfit packages because they are less expensive, have a 10-year lifespan, draw a smaller electric draw to consume less energy, produce increased lumens for greater luminosity, and are almost maintenance-free. When wired directly into the vehicle's electrical system, LED lighting options can be rated for 100,000 hours, far surpassing the 25,000-hour rating for incandescent lights.
On a total lifecycle cost basis, LED lighting is extremely cost-effective. For instance, a four-inch round stop lamp with an incandescent bulb uses about 2.1 amps to meet lighting requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108, while LEDs meet the same requirements with only 0.5 amps. When first introduced, LEDs produced fewer than 5 lumens per watt, requiring many diodes. However, output is now about 70 lumens and projected to reach180 to 200 by 2020, according to the Department of Energy.
The upfitting industry is expanding the palette of LED lighting options for vocational trucks by finding more and more places to use LEDs in truck upfits. It is increasingly common to find truck caps and tonneau covers equipped with LED lighting, or in dome lamps to illuminate the interior of truck cabs, or mounted inside a toolbox to illuminate interior contents. From a driver perspective, an LED light mounted inside the truck interior provides the needed lumens to allow workers to perform close-up detail work, such as paperwork, without the need to hold a flashlight for additional illumination. In addition, LEDs are rapidly proliferating into other segments of the fleet market. For instance, approximately two-thirds of all new trailers are now equipped with LED lighting. Similarly, a growing number of OEMs are making LEDs standard equipment or going with all-LED headlamps.
Mega-Trends in Automotive Lighting
In 2014, the BMW i8, BMW 7 Series, and Audi R8 LMX were the first production vehicles to use laser high-beam headlights, which generate a cone of light twice the range of an all‑LED headlight, providing improved visibility further down the road. The brightness of laser diodes is almost four times that of LEDs, which means headlights can be smaller in the future without having to compromise light intensity.
The next evolution of automotive lighting and displays will be thin OLED (organic LED) displays and lighting panels. OLEDs are flexible and can be bent to contour to a mounting surface. One OEM engineer gave me an example of an OLED used as a display screen inside a supervisor’s work truck mobile office parked at a job site. On the interior wall of the van is a ceiling-to-floor OLED display screen. On the van's exterior are cameras pointing outward, capturing images of the job site that are projected onto the interior OLED screen. The supervisor is able to work at a desk and simultaneously view the entire job site. Another example is of flexible OLED screens wrapped around the A, B, and C pillars of a car. The exterior-facing cameras would project onto the pillar-mounted OLEDs the street images giving the passengers the illusion they are in an open air car. OLED applications are numerous and fleet applications will only be limited by our imaginations.
Another exciting new lighting technology is dynamic bending headlights. These “round-the-corner lights” are already installed in some models. But up to now, mechanical assemblies were required to move parts of the headlight or the complete headlight itself. With dynamic bending lighting headlights, these mechanical assemblies will be a thing of the past. Instead of constantly shining straight ahead, dynamic bending lights are designed to turn as the steering wheel does. The lights will turn in whatever direction the wheel does, and this range of motion allows the lights to illuminate the road even when taking sharp turns or turning quickly.
While work trucks may not be on the cutting edge of automotive technology, fleets will inevitably be the beneficiaries as these new technologies migrate downward to the vocational market.
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