Mood lighting and ambience lighting are one of today’s hottest trends in automotive interiors. According to the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY), new light-emitting diode (LED) technology has led to a revolution in automotive lighting. It offers styling flexibility, energy efficiency, unlimited color options and high reliability.

The rugged, cool-burning and long-lasting light sources are popping up everywhere inside vehicles. Instrument displays that used an array of miniature incandescent lamps in the past are now being illuminated by individual arrays of LEDs and distributive light pipes.

In the future, LEDs will be the most common light source for interior lighting applications, says John Van Derlofske, head of transportation at the Lighting Research Center. “They generate little heat, are easy to manufacture, have a low profile, and turn on immediately with no rise time delay,” he points out. However, Van Derlofske says the cost for white and blue LEDs is still somewhat prohibitive.

The recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit featured several vehicles that use LED lighting to provide motorists with a warm, feel-good glow. For instance, the Lincoln MKR concept coupe sports “ice blue lighting” throughout its high-contrast interior, with a soft glow emitting from the door panels, foot wells, seats and center console.

“Lighting is an important design element,” says Gordon Platto, chief designer of the Lincoln MKR. “We know customers are paying more attention to the lighting in their homes than ever before, and we leveraged it to create even more ambiance and drama inside the concept.”

Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI) first introduced dramatic interior lighting on the 2007 Mustang, which features a color-configurable dashboard. It allows consumers to mix and match lighting at the touch of a button to create more than 125 color backgrounds to suit their personalities, moods, outfits or whims. The system consists of blue, green and red LEDs that are projected through light pipe fittings on the sides of the speedometer and tachometer.

The 2008 Ford Focus will also be available with optional interior ambient lighting. In addition to ice blue lighting on the dashboard, the vehicle will feature customizable lighting inside the cup holders and in the front and rear foot wells. Motorists can choose from seven different colors: red, orange, blue, indigo, violet, green and yellow. The driver or front-seat passenger can adjust the light with a switch that cycles through the colors.

“The idea was to let owners give the car its own mood,” says Philip Smoker, product marketing manager. “Customizable ambient light gives the interior a whole different look and keeps it fresh. A clear bottle of water inside the cup holder with a blue light going through it looks very cool.

“The overall trend is differentiation, [allowing individuals to choose] different audio systems, spoilers, wheels, trim and colors,” adds Smoker. “We’re playing a role in that by letting customers pick their own interior color at night and change it whenever they want.

“Customizable interior light inside cars and trucks is an emerging trend,” claims Smoker. “According to a recent survey, more than 90 percent of consumers said they would be interested in unique lighting to enhance the appearance of their vehicle’s interior. And almost 50 percent said they were willing to pay as much as $200 for ambient lighting options.”