Design is currently the driving force behind automotive lighting technology. Unless it’s exaggerated it’s good news for brilliant performance.

“Light is the new chrome” – that’s how Süddeutsche Zeitung recently described a trend in the automotive industry. While back in the day a decorative trim would catch everyone’s eyes, these days it’s curved daytime running lights or stylish rear lights that attract attention. Even in advertising, modern headlights are well on the way to dethroning super-sized wheels, for example.

This development is positive for car lighting. Car manufacturers are prepared to pour quite a bit of money into design. LEDs owe their success in cars above all to design freedom. Almost incidentally, developers have been able to accommodate advanced things such as matrix light in the stylish headlights. These and other technical solutions also heavily feature at trade fairs and in brochures, which didn’t used to be the case.

There are several reasons why lighting developers still often vent their frustration over a glass of beer or wine. The most important one is probably that their work doesn’t involve light itself often enough. Its quality, in other words aspects such as range and homogeneity, enjoys low priority. If anything at all, it’s the color that counts, and there has to be as much blue as possible. That’s not a technical challenge for engineers. LED technology doesn’t limit color temperatures. It’s the licensing regulations that put a stop to them at around 6000 kelvin. Developers are also annoyed that an elegant, laser engraved trim in their headlights or rear lights cost more than the LEDs – and that as a consequence not the most powerful ones are used.

Now, design and emotions have always played a major role in cars. Otherwise we’d all be driving around in boring beaters that have remained unchanged over years and years. Even buyers of vehicles of convenience – consciously or subconsciously – delight in nice details. But it’s precisely the enjoyment of good design that could be an incentive to offer diversity. What is currently being offered in lighting sadly not always falls under this category. The first curved daytime running lights were and still are sensational. Now there are a lot of similar things around. This lack of imagination is not mitigated by the fact that daytime running lights, position lights and indicators absolutely need to use the same curve. The first circuit for dimming daytime running lights when indicating was inventive at the time; now used in dozens of models, it doesn’t even make you yawn.

The annoying thing is that often indicators can barely be seen anymore from the side. A step backward that is unnecessary.

Is it perhaps true what Der Spiegel surmised some time ago? Namely that designers can think of nothing better anymore than to play with lights? There’s evidence for that. Are “Welcome modes” with bright carpets of light around the car, animated rear lights and similar physiological tripe really a sign of good design? Or even technical expertise?

I’m happy about technical solutions such as glare-free high beam, the progress in matrix lights regarding homogeneity, and more and more LED headlights, the performance of which is not guided by H7 but xenon. Especially if these things aren’t just found in high-end vehicles. Yes, and they’re even allowed to look good.

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