Those twinkling lights on the fronts of luxury cars are starting to find their way into the mainstream.
High-end brands, led by Audi a few years ago, were the first to distinguish the look of their cars with strings of small light-emitting diodes (LEDs) next to the headlights.
As costs for the lights come down, they are showing up on moderately priced and even entry-level new models. Several more showed up among vehicles displayed at the New York auto show in April:
• Kia added LEDs for daytime running lights on its redone 2012 Soul small crossover and Rio entry-level subcompacts. The Soul will offer a double deck of the lights below each headlight and two rows in the taillights.
• Volkswagen rims the round headlights of its new 2012 Beetle with a necklace of LED daytime running lights.
• Chrysler now has a "light pipe" of LEDs in the headlights of its midsize 200 and plush 300 sedans.
• Ford chose LEDs for the parking lights/turn signals of its redone 2013 Taurus full-size sedan, coming early next year. It sports LED taillights as well.
LEDs for older cars
While most methods have remained unchanged for decades, Tony Miller uses a few modern techniques to set his work apart:
- Colored LED lights that rim headlights, or "halos," can be added as aftermarket accessories as well. The lights sell for as little as about $200 a set, but installation can be difficult in some cars. A mechanic may charge around $1,000 in labor.
- Alternatively, you can opt for a do-it-yourself kit from a company such as Oracle Lighting Technology. Its kits feature lights in single colors or a rainbow of continuously changing colors.
Designers see LEDs as a way to give lower-priced models a more upscale look. "It's one of those little surprises," says Kia's chief U.S. designer, Thomas Kearn, whose Irvine, Calif., studio designed the new Rio. "It's usually associated with higher-end luxury cars."
Among luxury cars, including Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and Audi, LED lights are becoming nearly standard. They're on Lexus' new LF-Gh concept car, which it says embodies the coming look for the line.
Because they are popular with customers, Mercedes-Benz has "made them even more prevalent," including adding them to its lowest-priced C-Class sedans, spokesman Dan Barile says.
Hyundai has LED running lights on its luxury Genesis sedan. "They add a luxury touch, but they do more," Vice President Chris Hosford says. The LEDs allow designers another way to be creative with lighting beyond the lights limited by federal rules, such as headlights. They can do "more with shapes and forms."
Indeed, LEDs show up in a variety of creative ways. The VW Beetle's arc inside the headlight rims emphasizes the car's bug-eyed character. Chrysler has them in sharp angles like check marks around the 300's small, round headlamps.
Audi's LED daytime running lights in wavy shapes have become a signature of the brand. Is the automaker threatened by mass-market brands treading on one of its trademark looks? Nope, says spokesman Andy Lippman. "It's flattery," he says. "We are the pioneers. We do it best."