Interview, special to DVN
Christophe Le-Ligné is the CTO of Valeo’s Visibility Systems business group, and since this past July he directly lead the R&D activities of the Lighting Systems product group, replacing Laurent Evrard.
DVN : You’re working away in the lighting community, but your name might not be familiar to some of our readers. Will you tell us about yourself?
Christophe Le Ligné: I hold an engineering degree in Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering from ENSEA, that is École Nationale Supérieure de l’Électronique et de Ses Applications, or National School of Electronics and its Applications— a graduate school near Paris.
I began my career in the Automotive industry at SAGEM (Société d’Applications Générales de l’Électricité et de la Mécanique, i.e., General Electricity and Mechanics Applications Company) in 1988, where I worked on instrument clusters and navigation systems. Then I joined Japanese consumer electronics company kenwood in 1996 as an R&D manager in charge of car audio systems. In 1998 I became manager of electronics and advance engineering at Eaton Corporation, which became Delphi Mechatronics Systems in 2002. Until 2006 I was in charge of product engineering for Southern Europe. I also spent some time at Siemens VDO as a program manager on car audio and navigation systems.
I joined Valeo in November 2007 as branch R&D director for interior controls. Since 2011 I have been CTO of Valeo’s Visibility Systems business group, and since this past July I directly lead the R&D activities of the Lighting Systems product group.
DVN: What does your R&D organisation look like?
CLL : Valeo Visibility Systems is one of the four business groups of Valeo and covers wiper systems and lighting systems. VVS generated €5.7bn worth of sales in 2018. From an R&D point of view, we are present in 18 countries through 20 R&D centres comprising more than 4,000 engineers in fields like mechanics, optics, simulations, hardware, software, cybersecurity, AI, and a growing list of others.
Amongst our many activities: our wiper product group is developing front and rear wiper systems including motors, as well as sensor cleaning systems which are crucial for AVs. We have a very large offer and some unique technologies. The lighting product group is obviously working on front and rear lighting, plus interior lighting and, more broadly, the interior experience as we combine our technologies with those from our colleagues from other business groups. Then there’s our electronics product line, Vistronic, which is the fastest-growing team. All our products are embedding more and more complex electronics.
I am leading a very motivated and skilled team in a very exciting technical environment!
But now, let’s focus on Lighting.
DVN: The first semester was difficult for most of tier 1, with decreasing car volumes in major markets like China. How do you foresee the next 12 months for automotive suppliers?
CLL : The environment is clearly not positive, which drives us to gain in efficiency in our developments. We consider it as an opportunity that will bear fruit in the near future, as soon as the automotive sector resumes growing. It also change the approach of more and more clients who now consider using standard modules with reduced development costs instead of complex custom developments. In that perspective, Valeo—with our BiLED, for example—have pioneered this trend and continue to develop modules of which most of the design can be shared between different models and customers.
DVN : ADB is a wonderful technology able to greatly improve the safety at night. What can lighting suppliers do to convince car buyers to get it?
CLL : As said in some old advertising, “to try it is to love it”.’ The point is that you hardly try a car in the countryside at night before you buy it. Therefore we must advertise the comfort of driving a car equipped with ADB. That’s why I personally prefer to speak about Glare-free High Beam, which is really meaningful, rather than ADB. Nevertheless, as a lighting supplier Valeo have limited access to end-users. Therefore, I think the best place to advertise our lighting innovations remains car configurators for which Valeo are ready to support automakers for the content. That said, we need to do more. Many of my relatives don’t know about glare-free high beam! We need to combine our efforts with carmakers to make it known.
DVN : ADB is now expanding from premium cars to middle range cars. How can lighting suppliers persuade generalist car makers to accelerate this shift?
CLL : Glare-free High Beam is already widely adopted by volume car makers for their next models. What needs to be accelerated is the willingness of consumers to pay for the equipment, the price of which is not negligible when compared to the price of the car. This brings us back to my answer: we must advertise the function at the time of the purchasing decision.
DVN : We’re in a new era of lighting communication functions and increased need for styling differentiation. Will you tell us about your work along those lines?
CLL : Indeed, these two points will revolutionise the car communication, but at Valeo we do not stop here. Internally, we do not speak anymore about rear lighting; we now develop, more globally, communicating signalisation. We moved from known communication such as “I am here, I turn, I brake, I am going backwards” to complex messages to inform the car’s intentions to its environment, without any ambiguity. This will require a common language for understandable messages while giving flexibility for the design. Therefore, we work on pictograms and displays to broadcast such pictograms; they could be for long distance observation with full car width displays as in our PixTail technology, or for short distance observation with high definition displays as in our Kinetic technology.
DVN : Do you believe in coöperative work between automakers and suppliers to rapidly achieve a regulation about new functions (colour, position, shape/area, illuminance…)?
CLL : I remember the title of your book: “Lighting, the Soul of Car Design”. We could re-word by saying “Signalisation, the Soul of New Car Design”. For sure we need to agree on rules, but we must adopt a new mindset in which we forbid what is detrimental instead of allowing only what has proven benefits. From a scientific perspective, car design is useless but this is what makes some cars best-selling models.
DVN : Laser technology is used for long visibility distance, for ADB scanning, and for communication. Do you foresee a future for this last laser application in comparison with DMD, LCD, and LCoS?
CLL : Laser technology is particularly well suited for long visibility distance. The question is more about the need for drivers to see 600 metres ahead. I am afraid this will keep the laser spot in its current niche position. For glare-free high beam, laser scanning is really exciting in terms of engineering concept but it comes after DMD and, above all, after highly pixelated LEDs which I see to be the winning technology for HD lighting. Valeo are putting a lot of effort into this technology, offering to the market a first generation of three modules with respectively about 4, 2.5, and 1 kilopixels. Our 4-kilopixel module is the only all-in-one solution on the market providing a full HD high beam. We also prepare for the future with >10-kilopixel chips which are under development by LED makers.
DVN : OLED is not perceived as an established light source because of cost, durability, and reliability weaknesses. Do you see a future for it?
CLL : No technology can compete with OLED concerning homogeneity and this has a real value in terms of perceived quality. But OLED remains expensive because it is a niche technology. I am convinced that the cost of OLEDs might drastically decrease if the volumes would raise. The question is clearly the reliability of the source. OLED makers are working hard on achieving a flawless process matching with our automotive standards. As soon as the reliability will not be questioned any more, I believe the virtuous cycle could run: bigger volumes, lower prices, bigger volumes. Now, there are emerging technologies such as microLEDs or quantum dots which could reshuffle the cards…!