Suppliers are developing halogen bending lights to extend adaptive lighting into mass-market cars because xenon technology isn't getting cheaper.
Halogen bending lights are a middle ground between basic halogen and expensive xenon lights.
Halogen bending lights also open the way for suppliers to get some much-needed volume to recoup their heavy investment in developing bending light technology.
Suppliers had expected that the technology would expand to include the mass market and eventually generate economies of scale.
"We all had expected xenon technology to achieve higher take rates on the market," Rainer Neumann, head of Visteon Corp.'s European lighting development, told Automotive News Europe.
"But the end customer still pays about the same as 15 years ago. The market grew at a far slower pace than we expected."
So suppliers have created less costly ways to improve lighting for nonpremium cars: cheaper bending lights and cornering lights.
Benefits of halogen
The simplest way is to replace xenon with less expensive incandescent halogen bulbs in bending light systems.
The manufacturing cost of a bending halogen system is about 140 euros, or $177 at current exchange rates. That compares with 400 euros, or $508, for a bending xenon system.
The first car with halogen bending lights is the Ford Focus, which uses a system from Visteon.
"Bending halogen light is the only choice for anyone to offer a premium lighting option in the sub-Golf segment in Europe," said Michael Hamm, head of lighting development and innovation at Automotive Lighting in Reutlingen, Germany.
"There is high cost sensitivity here and, therefore, no territory to be gained with xenon technology."
Halogen bending lights will work well for small and minicar segments, said Arne Behlmer, senior automotive analyst at CSM Worldwide's office in Frankfurt.
"Its effect is clearly visible, and it is much less expensive than static xenon light," he said. "And you don't need washers and auto-leveling systems, which are mandated with xenon lights."
Slow speed ahead
French supplier Valeo SA is more cautious about halogen bending lights.
"It is technology that can be experienced during each and every night drive," said Konrad Weigl, director of marketing at Valeo's lighting division. "But there are definitely not enough carmakers on that track to really call it a trend."
Suppliers say drivers see the benefits of halogen bending lights more readily than those of xenon lights, but xenon lights are simply more powerful.
"Bending light brings halogen closer to xenon, but it is still regional league compared with the champions' league," Automotive Lighting's Hamm said.
Despite the challenges, suppliers hope halogen bending lights will achieve a far higher market penetration than xenon in lower-segment cars. "In the lower segments, a 15 percent market penetration for halogen bending lights is realistic," Hamm said.
But suppliers see lower-medium cars as being the upper limit for halogen bending lights.
Said Daniel Veitner, director of marketing for lighting at Germany's Hella KGaA Hueck & Co.: "It will be limited to segments up to the Golf class, not above that."
A cheaper solution
Another, even cheaper alternative is static cornering lights. A secondary beam that lights a corner during turns is added to ordinary static halogen headlights.
It is not powerful enough for use at high speeds, but it is useful for low-speed city driving. And it has no moving parts.
"Static cornering light is the entry ticket into the world of adaptive lighting," said Hamm of Automotive Lighting.
Visteon's Neumann said the system is better for low-end segments.
"The cost is manageable even in price-sensitive segments," he said. "Bending halogen light will (work) a step above, for cars like the Polo and Fiesta, but not yet at the bottom of the market."
You may e-mail Jens Meiners at [email protected]