With light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the cup holders, map pockets,
dashboard and footwells, Ford's 2010 Mustang may be taking
the auto industry's boldest step yet into the world of LED lighting.
The new Mustang, introduced earlier this year, is consistent
with the growing desire of automakers to use LEDs, instead of incandescent bulbs,
to boost the image of their vehicles. In the Mustang, Ford designers created an
aura inside the car, and then enhanced that aura by enabling owners to change
the color of the LED lighting. Using a feature called "MyColor,"
the new Mustang provides 125 color possibilities for the instrument cluster,
while allowing seven color options for the footwells, map pockets, cup holders
and door sill plates. Drivers can change the interior colors to their liking
merely by flicking a switch.
"It made a lot of sense to people in our product planning
committee," says Rob Gelardi, a senior designer for the 2010 Mustang. "Mustang
is the perfect vehicle to launch a technology like this."
To be sure, Ford isn't alone in its use of LEDs for interior
lighting. Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen and General Motors have made
significant use of LEDs to brighten their interiors. More than half of all
automakers also employ LEDs in center high-mount stop lamps (CHMSLs), as well
as in daytime running lamps and parking lamps. Approximately 2 percent of new
vehicles also use LEDs for high- and low-beam headlights.
Consistency Is Key
To date, however, the real impact of automotive LEDs has
been in the interior. Ford launched MyColor in 2006 and added ambient LED
lighting in 2008. Then it improved and broadened its use the technology in the 2010
"In 2010, we added an even better execution of footwells and
cup holders," Gelardi says. "Then we did the rear-seat area, map pockets, and
the coolest part: the sill plates."
Indeed, the Mustang sill plate is likely to be popular among
Mustang owners and enthusiasts. The feature borrows from the iconic, embossed
aluminum sill plates long used in Mustangs, then adds LED lighting to
illuminate the sill's Mustang logo, so it can be seen at night.
"When I got my 2010 Mustang, I'd change the color and say,
‘Check this out,' and I'd open the door," Gelardi says. "Then I'd close the
door, change the color and open the door again." The sill plate, along with the
rest of the ambient lighting, appears in Ford's brand color, called "Ice-Blue,"
as well as in red, green, blue, orange, purple and white.
Ford worked with Osram
Opto Semiconductors Inc., which makes LEDs and associated electronics and
optics, to develop the Mustang's illumination. Osram supplied LED components
for the interior, including the company's MULTILED,
which contains red, green and blue chips in one LED package, as well as its TOPLED
and Mini TOPLED products. The semiconductor maker worked with Ford to develop
the custom Ice Blue version of the TOPLED and Mini TOPLED, both created by
employing a proprietary phosphor chemistry to get the exact color Ford wanted.
Osram engineers said the key to pleasing Ford was to provide
consistent LED lighting quality. That way, vehicle owners wouldn't see
differences between the lighting in the footwells, dashboard and doors.
"Ford wanted consistency throughout the vehicle -
consistency in the brightness and consistency in the color," says Mike Godwin,
director of the Visible LED Business Unit for Osram. "That was always their
By carefully controlling electrical, optical and thermal
parameters of the products, Osram was able to provide the desired consistency.
The company then worked with suppliers — including makers of cup holders, map pockets
and other vehicle components — on the performance of the LEDs within the finished
"By having a consistent LED, Ford is able to rely on their
(electronic) controls, and not steer too far from the original target colors,"
Gelardi says Ford couldn't have reached its goals with
"Packaging would have been a big problem," he says. "Imagine
putting an incandescent bulb in a door sill plate or a cup holder. I wouldn't
have been able to put it where I wanted it within the interior of the car."
Color variation would have been an issue, too, Gelardi says.
The use of so-called RGB (red-green-blue) LEDs enabled Ford to quickly change
colors in a way that wouldn't have been possible with incandescent bulbs.
Experts say the plummeting costs of LEDs, along with the
rise in brightness, are the reasons behind choices like Ford's. Newer, brighter
designs are said to be about 10-20 times more powerful than the products of
five years ago. A few LED products now offer in excess of 50 lm/W — in some
cases as much as 100 — whereas many products a few years ago offered less than
five. At the same time, costs have dropped dramatically. Designers of LED-based
signage, who often use millions of the devices on a single project, say
that LEDs emerged as a solution between 1999 and 2008, when prices dropped by
At the same time, LEDs are said to be enabling automotive
designers to enhance their brand images. During the Mustang project, designers
built a so-called "half buck" to demonstrate the technology internally, then
ended up showing and re-showing it to hundreds of engineers and executives
throughout the company.
"Everybody wanted to see it," Gelardi says. "I ended up
presenting it to (Ford Executive Vice President) Mark Fields and (Ford CEO)
Alan Mulally. It went all the way to the highest echelons of the company."
The technology was an immediate hit internally, Gelardi
says, because it enables Mustang owners to customize their cars without going
the aftermarket route.
"You always want to make it your
Mustang," Gelardi says. "It's always been one of the most
customizable cars. "With this, you can customize your car different every day."