Automakers turn up dial on ambient lighting

DETROIT - They're a main style feature in the new Buick LaCrosse. Acura did market testing to find the most calming ones. Scion wanted them to be a cool, customizable feature for its cupholders, and Ford's new Shelby GT500 offers more than 100 different variations.

By (AP)

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Published: Wed 14 Jan 2009, 1:58 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 4:20 AM

As ceiling spotlights rain down on brand new shiny vehicles at the North American International Auto Show this week, the most important lights are inside the cars. Ambient lighting on dashboards, roofs, consoles and doors is growing in popularity as drivers demand more features, and carmakers are more than happy to oblige.

It's a way to make the interior of a car like a home, and not just functional," said Derrick Kuzak, Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president of global product development.

Ford has introduced ambient lighting in its Flex, Focus and Fusion vehicles. In the Mustang, drivers can customize the colors in up to 126 different colors and shades. The Dearborn automaker has a special environment chamber where it can view lighting in different conditions, such as complete darkness, dusk, or direct sunlight.

When General Motors Corp. redesigned its Buick LaCrosse, the blue lighting that runs around the rim of the console was developed to highlight the lines and curves of the vehicle, said Jeff Nasca, interior design manager for the 2010 model.

Our Buick blue is unique," he said. We wanted something that would be nice and fresh and have a 'wow factor."'

Market research done by Honda Motor Co.'s high-end Acura brand revealed that customers find soft blue and white lighting to be the most calming colors to look at while driving, said spokeswoman Sara Pines.

It also allows you to have enough light to see the controls," she said.

In Chrysler LLC's 2009 Town & Country minivan, the roof console emits a ring of soft blue light.

We call it the halo ring," said Chrysler spokesman Jiyan Cadiz. We're putting them on more of our vehicles. It's kind of becoming an industry standard."

Ambient lighting isn't new, but the feature generally reserved for luxury cars is beginning to emerge as standard in other vehicles.

Most of the ambient lights are light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, which last longer and use less energy than a conventional bulb. In addition to forming the halo ring in the Town & Country, LEDs are used in place of the standard dome lights, allowing passengers to aim the light directly on them without disturbing the driver, Cadiz said.

Ambient lighting on the floor and in the cupholders has been an added feature of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Scion brand for a few years. In the new Scion xB Release Series 6.0, drivers have about five choices of lights, a feature aimed at a younger demographic familiar with customization.

Ford first rolled out ambient lighting in its European vehicles. According to Kuzak, customers there liked the lights, ranking them among the top technology features in the car.

According to Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst with the consulting company IHS Global Insight in Troy, added features such as ambient lighting are welcomed by customers, but generally not a deciding factor when selecting a new car. The trend, which began with the Mercedes S-Class has now trickled down to less expensive cars such as the Ford Focus, he said.

It's about differentiation," Bragman said. It's an inexpensive way to set off the interior of the vehicle. It's one of those surprise and delight features."

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