DETROIT -- Headlights and taillights have morphed from low-tech and low-profit commodity parts into some of the most premium components on today's new vehicles.
Not only does today's exterior lighting improve safety, it increasingly is being used by designers to create unique signatures for their vehicles. Picture the taillights on the Dodge Durango or the headlights on any Audi, for example.
Varroc Lighting Systems in Plymouth, Mich., near Detroit, came into being after Visteon sold its lighting business to privately held Varroc Group of India in 2012. It expects to see revenue growth of 13 percent in 2015 and book total business of $750 million. Some of the company's largest customers include General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Tesla Motors.
The lighting unit traces its roots to 1879. The company strategy is to run lean. It operates eight plants close to its largest regional customers and seven technical centers.
Scott Montesi, 41, director of business and product development, spoke this month with Staff Reporter Richard Truett at the company's North American headquarters.
Q: The headlight module seems like a natural place to install some of the hardware for autonomous driving, such as the camera, radar and lidar. Can these items be packaged there?
A: Some of the [autonomous-driving] systems are camera-based. These will be hidden in the grille or rearview mirror. In the future, these will transition to infrared. We are already working with a lot of those customers to package infrared into the light source.
What role does Varroc play in autonomous driving?
The ability to detect oncoming obstacles. That may either be that we need a certain amount of light output at particular zones to be able to detect, or it's the integration of those modules in the lamp or elsewhere in the vehicle.
LEDs don't use as much energy as halogen and other older types of lights. But does energy usage increase when technologies are added to the light unit?
No. From a power standpoint, right now you are still significantly saving on power, about a third to a half over halogen. The major area where are we are trying to control is on the development cost side, especially the electronics. That can get really expensive. We are working to standardize a lot of those components and modules, and that brings the cost down. The development cost for some of these systems is really what's driving the cost.