Developments in the automotive lighting market

History of car lights
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A ls 1886 Gottlieb Daimler built the world's first motor vehicle with a combustion engine and candles were used for lighting. These were simply taken over from the carriages. Even the first car drivers had to be content with similar headlights. A lot has happened since then, from the development of Bosch light to the LED technology of today.

Electric light

When the cars got faster and visibility was also in demand at dusk and in the dark, people also experimented with petroleum lamps. Carbide lamps (see above) initially replaced the candles. But that made overland trips a tedious affair: the carbide lamps had to be re-lit every time. They also meant a constant fire hazard and visibility was only a few meters. In 1913, Bosch brought electricity into the car with the help of a generator. He operated the world's first electric headlight, the Bosch light.

Bosch, Hella, Osram, Wikipedia
B2 In 1913 Bosch brought electricity into the car with the help of the generator

This was a quantum leap. The Bosch light could be switched on and off at the push of a button and improved visibility many times over.


With the 540 K, Mercedes presented this in 1936 Bilux light. For the first time, a bulb with two threads was stuck in the reflector of the headlight. This technology was standard until the 1970s. In 1968 an exotic highlight made people sit up and take notice: the Citroën DS's headlights could pivot the light cone when cornering.


1971 stopped with the Mercedes SL (R107) Halogen light in the form of the H4 lamp is entering the car. For the first time, it combined low beam and high beam in one glass bulb and, with its light intensity, was able to simply double the previously used visibility.

Xenon andmore

1991 BMW brought the first xenon light onto the road in the 7 Series. Headlights with gas discharge technology were previously reserved for illuminating halls, streets and similar tasks. So-called DE headlights in ellipsoidal design came onto the market for the first time. This made it possible to build headlights that were particularly small but with high light output. This technology is not limited to xenon lamps. Super DE headlights with surface-mounted reflectors significantly increased the light output.

In 1999, Mercedes then followed up with xenon technology in the CL C215, in which the high beam also worked by gas discharge for the first time. From 2002 the static cornering light (cornering light) and then the dynamic cornering light found their way into the automobile. The technology had been around for several years, but legislative hurdles first had to be overcome. In 2006 Mercedes presented its Intelligent Light System (ILS), an adaptive headlamp system with variable light distribution that automatically adapts to the weather, light and driving conditions.


The next innovation in car lighting technology was LED. Cadillac was the first manufacturer to use the light-emitting diode, which previously only served as a control light, in the third brake light in 1992. From 2000, many manufacturers began using red LEDs in taillights and brake lights, and later also indicators.

Bosch, Hella, Osram, Wikipedia
B5 LEDs have revolutionized lighting in cars

The reason for the rapid growth in in recent years: On the one hand, the technology is considered to be durable, and on the other, it is energy-saving. Shuji Nakamura, an American physicist of Japanese origin, developed the blue light-emitting diode in 1993. This ultimately made all light colors possible. In 2004, Audi was the first manufacturer to use white LEDs as daytime running lights in the Audi A8 W12.

In 2007, Lexus launched headlights with LED technology in the world's first series vehicle, the LS 600h. The first full-LED headlights that generate low-beam and high-beam headlights came on the market in 2008 in the Audi R8. Hella had already presented the technology at the IAA in 2005. In 2010 Mercedes brought the new CLS (C218)Full LED headlights and ILS (at Audi AFL) as special equipment. This meant that the features previously reserved for xenon headlights (country road lights, motorway lights, extended fog lights, active cornering lights and cornering lights) were also available for LED headlights.

Electrically controlled LED headlights are state-of-the-art. In 2013 Audi presented the matrix LED. The intention: to block out the light where it could dazzle (e.g. oncoming traffic), and full light where it is useful; all without mechanics.


In 2014, the laser high beam in the matrix LED headlights in the Audi R18 e-tron Quattro was used at the 24 Hours of Le Mans presents. Audi and BMW offer laser light that shines up to 500 meters. Sounds spectacular, but is of little use without the adaptive function and is mainly useful on long straights without oncoming traffic.


Organic LEDs require less power and space than LEDs that light up more homogeneous, but not as bright as this one. Well suited as a tail light. Already installed in Audi TT RS, BMW M4 GTS, Mercedes S-Class Coupé.


Ampere (A) : Measure of the current strength. Current from 10 mA harms people, from 25 mA the effect can be fatal.

Candela (cd): Unit for luminous intensity, quotient of lumen and solid angle.

Kelvin (K): Color temperature of the light. Xenon light with a slightly bluish shimmer is around 4000 Kelvin, white LED headlights around 5500. A maximum of 6000 Kelvin is permitted for headlights.

LED: English, abbreviation of 'light -emitting diode '. Semiconductor that emits light in the forward direction when a voltage is applied. The Japanese researcher Shuji Nakamura built the first blue LED in 1993 and received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014 for his research.

Lumen (lm): total luminous flux of a light source.

Lux (lx): Illuminance. Measure of the strength of light radiation, for example on a certain surface or at a certain distance. High beam must reach 1 lux at a distance of 100 meters, office light must shine at least 500 lux.

OLED: light-emitting diode made of plastic. Light, thin, flexible and economical, but still relatively expensive.

Watt (W): Voltage (volt) times current (ampere) equals electrical power (watt). Named after the engineer James Watt (1736–1819).

Volt (V): Voltage. Physical: Resistance (ohms) times current (amperes). In the car until the 1960s 6, then 12 and in future 48 volts.


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