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The Lexus LS 600h uses LED headlights

VW's XL1 concept car uses Osram's LED lighting system
Could eventually replace high-intensity discharge lamps

LEDs have had some trouble making headway in the auto industry, but now, Osram is looking to change that by introducing its Joule-branded line of single-source LED lighting. 

Osram is the one of the leading light manufacturers in the world, and has now designed a plug-and-play LED lighting system that could eventually replace high-intensity discharge lamps.

LEDs were expected to be the next huge deal in lighting for autos. Many thought they'd be the next permanent fixture in forward and rear signal lighting; but problems such as cost, the custom-design requirements of pixilated LED systems, and the reliability of the incandescent bulb have slowed that progression. 

"The old technology works," said David Hulick, marketing director at Osram. "It is reliable and durable. It does everything it should. No one out there is saying, 'I have a problem with this, you've got to do something.'"

Another issue is that LEDs do not have as much brightness as high-intensity discharge lamps, but Hulick says they're working on that and plan to achieve the same brightness eventually. Currently, only some luxury models utilize LED headlamps, including the Audi A8 and R8, "top-line" Toyota Prius' and the Lexus LS 600h. 

But now, Osram's Joule-branded line of single source LED lighting has the potential to replace high-intensity discharge lamps because they are interchangeable from one auto to another. The forward-light source measures 2 inches in diameter and a half inch thick with 0.4-inch square high brightness LED chips assorted in the middle. The high-powered LED light source sits behind a molded plastic light guide, and the system draws 14 watts of electricity while halogen bulbs draw about 65 watts. 

LED systems are much more energy efficient, and because of this, Osram believes that automakers will want to use the system in electric and high-mileage vehicles as an affordable option. Instead of using taillight treatments that utilize a custom-designed circuit board with a costly array of LEDs, Osram's system uses a high-powered LED light source that sits behind a molded plastic light guide. 

Automakers have already started using Osram's LED system. For instance, Volkswagen applied the technology to its XL1 concept.

Consumers could also handle the price of Osram's LED system, since it costs $174 to replace the Joule-signal lighting system. It costs about $131 to replace an incandescent system and $299 for today's LED assemblies. 

While LED system's do need more research and improvement before they can replace high-intensity discharge lamps, Hulick predicts that 38 percent of new vehicles will have LED systems by 2015. By 2020, he predicts that one in four cars around the world will have LED headlamps, and 50 percent of cars worldwide will have LEDs for rear signals.

"As the technology matures, I think you use it as a product differentiator," said Hulick. "For the American producers, that's really important. How do you get someone out of the V-6 Mustang and into the [higher priced and more profitable] GT? What features are going to appeal to people that are visible and tangible? Lighting is one of the things that produce this effect."




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