‘We’re confident India will move towards better safety products which will enable us to bring safer headlamp technologies.’
Todd C Morgan, senior VP, global product development, Varroc Lighting Systems, on the latest trends in automotive lighting, demand in the Indian market, achieving cost competitiveness and innovating for OEMs.
Todd C Morgan, senior vice-president, global product development, Varroc Lighting Systems, on the latest trends in automotive lighting, demand in the Indian market, achieving cost competitiveness and innovating for OEMs. An email interview by Amit Panday.
Varroc Lighting Systems was developing laser headlamp technology. What is the latest update?
Although it will be some time before the industry sees full laser applications for headlamps, the laser contributor, combined with LED technology, provides a significant enhancement to visibility for the driver.
We are seeing increased interest in this technology due to the powerful intensity that is achieved within a small packaged space. We have accelerated our development activity with lasers, completing two generations of demonstration vehicles, and we now have production programs in development for European customers. You will see more of this innovation on the road in the near future.
What are the new products and technologies to come from VLS in 2015-16?
There will be a continued implementation of LEDs in both signal lamps and headlamps. Although this is pretty much expected in the premium vehicle segment, you will see this accelerating on more mainstream vehicles that we are now in the process of launching.
This is in line with Varroc’s strategy of bringing high value innovation to our more mainstream customers. We are also launching a multi-functional projector. Typical projectors are ‘bi-functional’, which gives high and low beam with a simple shutter. This new projector offers multiple modes that will adapt the beam for a variety of driving conditions. This will give the driver improved visibility in a smooth manner without distraction.
Can you detail a few examples of new innovations recently developed by VLS engineers?
In addition to the laser headlamps mentioned already, we are actively developing LED matrix or pixel lighting where our headlamps are communicating with on-board cameras and other sensors to adapt the beam according to traffic and other vehicle conditions.
With this technology, we have full control over the beam pattern, by turning on and off individual LEDs as part of a complex array. We can detect incoming vehicles and dim that portion of the beam so that you don’t glare other drivers, but still have the best possible vision elsewhere. We can even detect pedestrians or animals, and apply a spot beam to highlight them to the driver. This technology truly allows incredible functionality and performance.
In signal lighting, we are actively developing concepts using Organic LEDs (OLEDs). These very thin and homogeneous lighting elements allow us to create new designs that were not feasible before. We are also exploring possibilities to personalise your vehicle using lighting, with interesting and programmable welcome and good-bye features.
What are the latest trends in the automotive lighting space globally and in India?
Globally automotive exterior lighting is driven by safety and styling. Cutting-edge technologies such as laser and intelligent matrix LED lighting are being used to drive advanced adaptive headlamps that not only allow enhance visibility, deliver better colour temperatures and anti-glare options, but are intelligent enough to switch modes between various road conditions such as country roads, city roads and freeways without driver intervention.
The focus is on allowing the driver maximum visibility and comfort while at the same time making the vehicle visible to pedestrians and other drivers without blinding them.
In the area of signature lighting, there is increased interest in developing design signatures, a way for the OEMs to differentiate their vehicles. The OEMs often use the headlamp signature as the first image of a new vehicle introduction. This shows how important lighting is to the excitement of a new vehicle launch.
The Indian market, meanwhile, continues to be cost sensitive and so the technological advancements are limited. There is, however, growing interest in the daytime running lamps (DRLs) and signature lighting, and we see that trend growing. We expect new lighting technologies will become more prevalent as safety regulations increase in India.
What are two- and four-wheeler OEMs in India looking for when it comes to lighting solutions?
With the continued price pressures faced by the OEMs in India, halogen and xenon remain the dominant light sources for the headlamps. There is an increased emphasis in some higher-end vehicles to introduce LEDs in DRLs. Projector headlamps are gaining ground mainly for packaging and styling reasons. However, there are no requests for adaptive lighting yet.
The two-wheeler OEMs seem to be working on LED reflector headlamps for premium segments while on the rear lamps, it has yet to penetrate into the volume segment. There is not enough motivation in this segment to drive safety products in a cost-sensitive market.
What would be the penetration of DRLs in India currently? What is the more preferred choice of Indian OEMs – DRLs with LED lamps or simple lamps?
The penetration of DRLs in India would be less than 5 percent today. However, its demand is increasing rapidly due to the attractive styling. Although Indian customers are very sensitive to cost, LEDs and light guides are the most preferred technologies as these provide better styling, and the end user is willing to pay for this styling feature. Of course, LEDs have a much longer lifetime than the traditional bulbs, so this also plays as an important factor.
In India’s context, what would be the current split between halogen lamps and LED lamps across the automotive lighting industry? Do you see changes in this in the near future?
Almost the entire Indian market is using halogen lamps. Although the cost of LED headlamps is declining, LED headlamps are rare. In the next five years, we see this trend changing with an increase in LED daytime running lamps (DRLs). Since India is a very cost-conscious market, this has to be driven by legislations.
Do you see projector lamp technology increasingly penetrating into vehicles in India? What are the pros and cons about projector lamp technology?
Yes, projector headlamps are finding favour with both the passenger car and the two-wheeler industry for styling reasons more than functionality or safety. Projector lamps are compact and take less space to pack and at the same time more amenable to cut off (so that the beam does not go above a certain height – this is safer for oncoming traffic drivers). They tend to be a little more expensive than reflectors, which is the reason this market has not adopted it in the three decades since it has been around.
The majority of projector implementation utilises halogen sources in India. However, we are starting to see more interest in the 25W Xenon, which is a lower cost option to the traditional 35W version. The 25W Xenon system does not require automatic levelling or headlamp washers, so the overall cost to the vehicle is low.
How far VLS has been successful in bringing niche, expensive lighting technology to mass-market vehicles?
Globally, VLS has a track record of bringing niche technology to the mass market, partly driven by innovation and partly through our low cost manufacturing and engineering footprint. In signal lighting, we are able to utilise our proprietary engineering tools to apply cheaper LEDs and efficient optics to drive out the cost, but still deliver an innovative style.
We have been quite successful in applying our OPTI-LED headlamp concept into serial production programs. This system delivers LED technology below the cost of Xenon by applying standardised electronics, passive cooling, and efficient optical systems. We have taken this one step further in the development of OPTI-MATRIX which provides the primary functionality of a higher cost matrix system, but we have optimised the performance and number of segments in the beam to reduce the cost.
What are the best ways to achieve cost competitiveness in the automotive lighting business and what has VLS done in this area?
We, at Varroc, believe that headlamp lighting is a safety product, and that there cannot be a compromise on the safety aspect. It is disappointing to see fatal accidents at night continue to happen when it can be prevented by the existing technologies. We are confident that this government and industry will move towards better safety products that will enable us to bring safer headlamp technologies to this market.
On the cost side, VLS is working on implementing new halogen sources. These newly developed halogen bulbs are based on the traditional H4 and H7 bulbs, but offer 20-30 percent more performance. The 25W Xenon system offers an excellent alternative to its big brother the 35W, and finally our continuous drive to reduce the cost of LED applications which we are now able to offer below the cost of Xenon.
The key to making these all happen are our strong proprietary engineering tools, global collaboration (both in design and manufacturing) and our focus on standardisation.
How much is the company spending on R&D year on year?
VLS spends over five and a half percent of its annual revenues in R&D. Our engineering teams are led by our largest engineering centre in Czech Republic, which is working on laser headlamps, OPTI- LED and MATRIX headlamps to bring highly advanced adaptive front lamp systems to the European market first.
There is also a significant effort at improving performance of halogen and xenon lamps to match mid-level LED performance for emerging markets such as India. Our development team is focused on delivering innovative technologies to the mainstream vehicle segments, while ensuring that we are flexible to adapt to our customer’s needs. With so many possibilities and technologies now available, it’s absolutely critical that we listen to our customers, and propose to them the innovations that fit their requirements.
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