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LED Headlamps

The light-emitting diode has been known for decades already. One had also seen how they had infiltrated their way into the motor car, for example in the first generation VW Golf. Because the manufacture of L ight Emitting Diodes in certain colours was too difficult and too expensive, the official blue-coloured high-beam control light was even changed. Indeed, would one ever trust the LED to light up the road?

One started pricking up one's ears, when the bicycle manufacturers stated to replace the light bulb with LEDs because of the lower power consumption, and also to enable the lights to carry on shining when the bicycle was standing still. Of course one now sees a great deal of illuminated decoration, e.g., in trucks around the Christmas period. The first prototype completely fitted with LED-headlights was the Pikes Peak Quattro, the forerunner of the Audi Q7.

First of all, one has to get used to these new headlights, which give out their light from no more than one, two or three high performance LEDs, which of course, opens a whole new field for the designers. Not only since this development, have the designers and the light technicians moved closer to one another. It no longer concerns only the “eyes” of the car but also the eyebrows and who knows, perhaps it may soon be the eye-shadow as well.

Little pinpoint sources of light, it must have electrified the designers. They no longer had to search for a way of accomodating the comparatively large reflectors. The light source can be much better integrated into the total front-end concept. Long gone are the times where one had to resort to pop-up headlights to achieve, at least during the day, a favourable streamlining.

Now, even during the day, one can exploit the additional possibilities of lighting. The daytime running lights are on their way to becoming a further aspect of marque- recognition. Nowadays, one can tell from a distance, whether the approaching car is a BMW or an Audi. The daytime running lights also shine through at night, making it possible to show your brand-name consciousness, even in the dark. This lighting was probably invented by marketing experts.

In the future, also the lighting on the various model should be different. Children (in Germany) used to play the game of guessing the number plates, now the parents will be able to occupy their ofspring with “guess the daytime running lights”. Because we're talking about headlamps here, we'll ignore the much more sophisticated possibilities for the rear-end. As crazy as it sounds, some manufacturers give themselves a pat on the back for arranging them in a circular form. Let's rather concentrate on the reduced energy consumption, which promises the LEDs a shining future.

Up to now, there's not much difference between LED- and Xenon headlamps as far as energy efficiency is concerned. They both look down their noses at the halogen lamps with their four times higher consumption. Indeed, in the case of the LED-technology, one is expecting the energy consumption in the future, to be halved again, which will give them a clear edge on the Xenon systems. It is to be hoped that this development will also make itself felt in the more reasonable price-range. At the moment, e.g., LED rear-lights at VW, can only be had as an optional extra together with fog-lamps, which cost € 500 surcharge.

Would it interest you to know the prices of existing LED-headlamps? Unfortunately they are only available for top-of-the-range models. In the Audi R8 they cost € 3600, and even the A8 cost half that amount. This is only information about the possible availability for the lower price models, indeed, it doesn't look like being more reasonable than the Xenon solution. Therefore, LED-lighting remains an extra and cannot unfold it's design potential, after all, the more reasonable Xenon- or even halogen systems must be taken into consideration.

While Audi is showing pride in the company's own past in the field of LED-headlamps, BMW has indeed, gone one step further. They are planning to offer laser-light before 2014. It's even lower energy consumption, and the electrically driven i-generation with it's pinpoint, slightly bluish light emission, would fit in with the design. Apart from that, they would like to motivate car drivers to use the high-beams more often, especially to detect pedestrians earlier. There will be more light-zones or even a continuous displacement of the light-to-dark boundaries. 12/11

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