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Bright future in automotive for nitride LEDs

Osram holds the current lead in automotive LED sales but the emergence of LED headlamps could change the complexion of the market, says IMS Research.

As automotive LED suppliers jockey for position in all-LED headlamps, GaN pioneer Nichia is looking to use its high brightness white LED expertise to dominate this market.

The Japanese company s bid to make gains over Osram Opto Semiconductors and Philips Lumileds illustrates a key shift occurring in the automotive LED market recently documented by IMS Research.

“At the moment most LEDs used in automotive, at least certainly in the exterior, are red and yellow, and Nichia doesn t produce many of those LEDs,” said IMS analyst Jamie Fox. “As we see more LEDs in front and interior lighting there will be more and more white nitride LEDs used, where Nichia is very strong.”

The 2006 automotive LED market was worth $650 million, according to the IMS report “LEDs in Automotive Applications”. Osram OS was the largest supplier, with 23 percent market share, ahead of Lumileds and Nichia who both come in at around 16 percent. Many different companies, including Toshiba, Avago and Everlight, share the rest of the market between them.

By 2013 Fox anticipates the total market reaching $1.3 billion, and expects Nichia to fight hard to increase its share within this.

“In theory, you would expect them to grow their percentage of the market and they certainly plan to,” he commented. “Some while back they actually said they want 15 percent of their business to be automotive.”

The growing market for white LEDs is reflected by their recent inclusion as daytime running lights in GM-Opel's Adaptive Forward Lighting system, which will debut this year in its new Insignia model.

This trend will aid LEDs to penetrate the market still further, at a rate that Fox predicts will see half of all automotive lighting tasks performed by LEDs within ten years. Currently the driver for LED adoption in cars largely revolves around branding and styling, he says, but now this foothold has been established it can go on and deliver at a higher level.

“LEDs have a number of practical advantages,” Fox explained “but they're only being half-realized at the moment, it just takes some time for the technology to mature.”

“Longer lifetime in particular, better light quality, lights that turn on faster and use less energy, after some years, will become very powerful advantages, and that s the reason that LEDs should take over in the end.”

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