Remember back in the 70’s when safety regulations made our favorite sports cars carriers of big, bulky, protruding bumpers? An undesirable design trend, but a trend that shaped the way our favorite cars looked nonetheless. Or how about in the 80’s when we started to see high-mounted brake lamps become a necessary addition to the rear-end demeanor of our cars. And as the new millennium rolled around, it seemed as though BMW’s shelf-like trunk lid on the 7-series may have caught onto other luxury and other car design schemes, but ultimately without much success (thank goodness!). But today we find a few design cue that is beautiful, functional, defining, and quite frankly, rampant: LED lights.
LED lights used to just adorn flashy concepts and the cars of aftermarket-happy drivers but is now commonplace among exotic and luxury cars, but also becoming more prevalent on mainstream vehicles, including economy cars. So what is the attraction? Firstly, they look damn cool. One of these days they won’t hold the same panache that they continue to hold today, but spotting a stream of LED daytime running lights (especially at night) still makes most take a second look. Another driver benefit is that they are bright and emit a whiter light than traditional bulbs, making them a safety feature of sorts. So whether they carry safety benefits or are just so uber cool, J.D. Power and Associates showed that LED lights are the number one most desired automotive technology among consumers and that 70% of respondents would pay for them as an option. But why? Other than looking great, they hold key associations that are a benefit to manufacturers.
For automakers, the LED light was first and foremost a functional tool that uses 70-80 percent less than power than its xenon and halogen counterparts. One of the first vehicles to make full-hearted use of LED technology was the 2008 Lexus LS600H L, Lexus’s flagship hybrid, which employed the lighting not just as daytime running lights but as its primary low-beam headlamps. One such reason they worked well was because they not only fit well with the advanced technology and overall efficient image of the car, but that it also gave off associations of advancement and luxuriousness. The point is: LED lights have become one of the best ways for brands to associate a vehicle with advancement, luxury and capability. As you can imagine, when an opportunity comes around like that, few will hesitate to jump on the bandwagon. And when LED’s provide other design benefits, like allowing lower-sitting hoods and other aerodynamic alteration, there’s no stopping them. But with so many auto brands using LED’s, how will their interpretation stand out?
Cue the next opportunity for manufacturers: create a streamlined LED strategy to mark your brand. For example, BMW has used its glowing halo approach, Audi has maintained a architectural “check mark” for lack of a better description, and Lexus has employed a Nike “swoosh” style across most of its models. If asked what a particular brand’s LED design is, would you know? We’re guessing most probably wouldn’t, other than the fact that the car does or doesn’t have cool day time running lights. But just when you’re starting to discriminate among brands, the quickly growing use of LED’s might make them irrelevant and too “normal” to even distinguish.
So, despite all contemplation and analysis of LED lights on cars, they are undoubtedly a welcome addition to today’s design language. Sleek, emotional, bright and noticeable, LED lights will continue to grace our favorite luxury and exotic cars. After all, we could stare our Audi R8 in the eyes for days and we’d still be in lust.