Monday, 29 January 2018

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The Detroit auto show has been morphing over the years, adapting to new realities of the auto industry. Despite heavy promotion of the show as roundly international and all-inclusive, makers who did not display at the show included Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati, Land Rover, Jaguar, Porsche, MINI, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, and America's own Tesla. These makers, amongst others, increasingly see the Detroit show as less relevant in a current-day automotive world where the North American innovation hot spots are in Silicon Valley and the internet has taken a big bite out of the public's need to go see car shows.

But the trend is not one of doom and gloom. Again, it is one of adaptation, and this is reflected in the evolution of show cars themselves. There were far fewer concept, prototype, and dream cars, but even the pre-production prototypes and newly-unveiled production cars are essentially dream cars in and of themselves, bristling with levels of technology and capability well outside yesterday's bounds of practicality. And there was absolutely no shortage of interesting lighting; the 2018 NAIAS was a showcase of the general trend toward higher lighting content on most vehicles offered in the world's second-largest vehicle market. One crucial piece of the context that separates the Detroit show from others round the world is that the US is one of the two countries on the North American regulatory island: the United States has its own lighting regulations, significantly different to the UN (or UN- approximate) regulations recognised by most of the rest of the world. So most vehicles on offer in America—and therefore most vehicles on display at the show—have different lighting system specifications and particulars than their equivalents elsewhere in the world. Red rear turn signals are allowed in America, for example—though this year there were interesting signs of how makers are adapting to a planned NCAP preference for the yellow ones the rest of the world requires—and front and rear sidemarker lights and reflectors are required, but side turn signal repeaters and rear fog lamps and DRLs are not. And ADB is still not yet legal in America, so models that come equipped in Europe are stripped of that feature for the American market. And it's not just lighting regulations that are different; most all North American vehicle regulations differ substantially from their international UN counterparts, as do North American vehicle buyers' habits and preferences, so it's really quite a different mix of vehicles than might be found at Paris or Frankfurt or Shanghai, for example.

Overall, last year's news is also this year's news: increasing lighting content on the front, sides, and rear of vehicles, but this is not a one-way trend. LED daytime running lights, though not required, are present on a lot more vehicles. The car-lights-as-art revolution, though it got its start in Europe, has well and truly spread to American shores. The whole industry, worldwide, is striving at an unprecedented rate to add glitz and fascination to what used to be purely functional, minimally-styled equipment. It is surely safe to say the old philosophy of vehicle lights as commodity items is now a distant memory. Another trend on the obvious increase is the use of lighting for brand and model-range identity advertisement.