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The 2013 Ford Fusion  (Source: Ford Motor Company)
"Ice blue" will be the default light setting for Ford line, "white" for Lincoln

At a event on "lightscaping" Ford Motor Comp. (F) discussed its transition to LED lighting and what is sees as the marriage of science and design when it comes to illuminating the interior of the automobile.

I. Ford Pushes LED Shift 

Cabin lighting is almost as old as the automobile itself; by the 1940s many cars were already sporting dome lights [source].  Gradually glovebox and instrument cluster lighting became ubiquitous as well, satisfying the basic needs of car goers.  But even as other components involved, lighting stood static, driven by failure-prone incandescent bulbs.

But that's beginning to change.  Automakers have begun to push light-emitting diodes (LEDs) both for exterior lights (LED headlamps, tail lights, brake lights, etc.) and for interior lighting.  Ford has been among the companies pushing hardest.

Ford introduced LED lighting in the 2003 model year Lincoln Navigator, an entry-level luxury SUV.  Since then it's been slowly trickling the technology down to its mass market vehicles, including sedans.

The culminations of what Ford calls 8 years of efforts is found in the 2013 Ford Fusion, which is Ford's first mass-market vehicle to use only LEDs on its interior.

 Ford Fusion interior
The upcoming 2013 Ford Fusion will exclusively use LEDs for interior lighting, with the default color being "ice blue". [Image Source: Ford Motor Company]

Already sitting pretty with hybrid-like mileage in its gas-only variant, the new Fusion will carry Ford's new default "Ice Blue" lighting color, which the company says first popped up in the 2011 Ford Explorer.

Ford technical leader for Design, Mahendra Dassanayake, states, "Lighting is evolving from basic needs to how to deliver enhanced experience, comfort, and convenience."

II. "Ice Blue" -- Ford's New Interior Color of Choice

Traditionally, despite Ford's logo being a shade of blue, Ford's interiors were lit with red incandescent bulbs, which whose light was sent through filters to present a green appearance.  According to Ford and its academic partners, green was a color that was traditionally associated with relaxation.

But the new shade "ice blue" should help improve both driver attentiveness is psychologically associated with luxury, according to Ford.  Ford says that research has shown different colors of light activate different parts of the human brain.  While such statements might seem a bit nebulous and biased, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York in 2008 published quantitative research that showed that shining a blue light on drowsy drivers helps keep them awake (and alive).

Ford Color infographic
An infographic on emotions associated with certain colors from Ford. (If purple is magical, how come the iPad is black?) [Image Source: Ford Motor Company]

(Lincoln-branded vehicles will use white LED light, by default.)

Ford says that OSRAM Slyvania, Inc. (privately held) provided most of its diode elements, designed to a strict "specification of power, color, and reliability."

An added perk of Ford's switch to LEDs is the addition of user specified tones.  While "ice blue" may come standard, drivers can also select orange, red, green, purple, or blue tones.  Ford accomplishes these different shades by packaging a red, a green, and blue LEDs into a unified package with waveguides.  Thus producing a certain shade is as elementary as driving each diode at a particular milliamp current level, although in practice picking universally appreciated shades is a subject of considerable thought and consideration.

The previous Ford Fusion had this perk for accent lights, but the new Fusion extends variable lighting to the cabin in its entirety.

III. Costs are Offset by Savings, Luxury

LED lights -- particularly bright ones -- remain expensive.  But the switch ultimately nets Ford numerous savings in the long-run.  

One saving comes from not having to replace interior bulbs.  According to Ford engineers, an average incandescent lightbulb last "2, maybe 3 years" in an oft-used automobile.  By contrast Ford's Interior Chief Designer Michael Arbaugh says that LED lights' life is "more than the car."

LEDs wide
The LED bulbs in Ford's interiors will likely outlive the vehicle, say their designers.  They are unlikely to ever need a replacement. [Image Source: Instructables]

Aside from simple heat-stress failure, Ford says that the filaments in incandescent bulbs can fail due to vibrations, such as the loading of a truck.  So borrowing Ford's assumption that the average vehicle sees around 10 years, and 150,000 miles of deployment, that's anywhere from 3 to 5 replacement bulbs, on average, per light source.

And Ford says that the LED package is a fourth the size is a fourth the size of a incandescent-bulb based package.  This saves Ford time and money both on packaging the element and on the assembly line.

Overall the reliability and efficiency of the small components, coupled with the luxury justify the small expense, Ford feels.  And unlike some competitors, Ford feels the time is now for LED in mass-market non-luxury vehicles.

Mr. Arbaugh pitches, "The outside is about love, the inside is about happiness."

Well, happiness and LEDs, that is.


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How often do interior lights actually get replaced?
By tayb on 2/24/2012 4:50:07 PM , Rating: 2
I think Ford is grossly exaggerating traditional bulb failure rates on vehicles. I don't have any hard data (and I'm not sure it exists) but simply asking around I couldn't find anyone I know who has ever had to replace the interior lights of their cars. Granted, most of my friends and family don't hang on to cars more than 5-7 years but I do know one person who has been driving the same car since 1996 and even SHE has never changed interior lighting.

To take it a step further I'm not even sure this is an improvement. LED lighting is great for directional lighting such as a flashlight but it has shortcomings when trying to illuminate a large area. I'm willing to take that sacrifice in certain scenarios where LED will save me money on electricity but in a non-electric car I'm not sure what the real benefit would be.




By Keeir on 2/24/2012 5:16:35 PM , Rating: 2
Errr... Where do you think the electricity comes from for lightening in cars? It comes from the running the engine, which runs on oil. Data from the Chevy Volt's range extender would suggest that at best you getting 10-11 kWh from a gallon of gasoline. If you look at running a single interior light ~1,500 hours over the lifetime of the car, a 30W reduction in running wattage results in a net savings of 4+ gallons of gasoline.


By Netscorer on 2/24/2012 9:57:06 PM , Rating: 2
1,500 hours is roughly 30 minutes per day. That's every day for 10 years. Who the F keeps the interior lights on for that much? Just another number that was pulled out of one's shiny metal a.. to justify their 'scientific' analysis.
And even if you're right - 4 gallons over 10 years at $4 per gallon would mean, brace yourself, $.03 savings per week or two soda cans per year. Great savings!


By Keeir on 2/27/2012 4:35:36 PM , Rating: 2
Hmmm.

I think you'd benefit significant by reading.

Interior Lights DNE Overhead Dome Lights.

There are a variety of "interior" lights in a car. Some of which may run less than 1,000 hours and some which will run significantly more than 2,000 hours.

quote:
And even if you're right - 4 gallons over 10 years at $4 per gallon would mean, brace yourself, $.03 savings per week or two soda cans per year. Great savings!


The average cost increase per bulb? Around 25 cents. http://www.freep.com/article/20120224/BUSINESS0102...

Given the reduced running cost of 1.2 cents per hour on, it only takes ~21 hours of on time to make the LED start saying you money. (Again, this is because Gasoline --> Electricity costs roughly 0.40 cents per kWh) The remaining X time is all money in your pocket! Does it matter if its only a dollar or two?


By rich876 on 2/28/2012 9:57:52 AM , Rating: 2
Those figures are ridiculous.


By Netscorer on 2/24/2012 10:00:27 PM , Rating: 2
I'm with you. In my 15 years owning my second car at the moment, I never had to replace a single interior light. I know, this is not scientific, but I was surprised to see Ford engineer's number of 2-3 years on average. Someone out there must be very unlucky to come to averages with guys like you and me :-)


By dark matter on 2/26/2012 5:21:46 PM , Rating: 2
By God I've become cynical in my old age, when you start to contemplate agreeing with random Internet guy that claims he knows more about how often an interior light lasts than Ford.


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