If you spend a lot of time driving you won't have failed to notice the distinctive shape of high intensity LED daytime running lights on some modern vehicles. As for LED tail-lights, those are even more common.
Only a small selection of vehicles features entirely LED-based headlights though, including models like the Audi A8, A7 and A6 and the R8 supercar, the Lexus LS 600h and some Toyota Prius models. LED headlights are expensive, but allow makers to create much more efficient and adaptable headlights, as demonstrated by companies like Audi with its adaptive headlight technology
Cost and custom-design requirements has held back the technology so far from reaching more down-to-earth vehicles (one look at an LED headlamp array will tell you how much work has gone into its design and construction) but lighting manufacturer Osram is set to change that with its line of Joule plug'n'play LED lighting.
The new line is designed to be entirely interchangeable with regular head- and tail-lights allowing drivers to benefit from all that LEDs offer without requiring a brand-new car or an entirely new lamp unit. The LED system draws only 14 watts of power compared to the 65 watts of a halogen bulb, and outputs more light too. This low draw makes the technology particularly relevant in electric vehicles, where every watt counts.
As well as cost though there are a couple of other stumbling blocks for LEDs.
The first is that the good old incandescent bulb works so well, for so little money. Osram's marketing director David Hulick says “The old technology works... It is reliable (and) durable. It does everything it should. No one is out there saying, ‘I have a problem with this, you’ve got to do something.'"
It will also take a bit of work to ensure compatibility with the vast range of vehicles that regular halogen bulbs are currently available in.
The technology also isn't quite up to the level of HID (high-intensity discharge) lights in terms of outright brightness, but it's something that companies such as Osram are working on. Since LEDs are more efficient too, it should become more widely used by manufacturers.
The cost is coming down, at least. A current incandescent light assembly costs around $131 to replace and a current LED array nearer $299 on average. Osram's Joule system should cost around $174. You can expect the incremental cost to be similar when speccing-up a brand new car, too.
With LEDs offering efficiency and safety benefits with very little penalty, we're looking forward to their useage becoming more widely adopted.