HELLA IS NOT A HOUSEHOLD NAME, BUT the German auto supplier makes some of the most recognizable components on the road: Audi's eye-catching light-emitting diode headlamps.

LED daytime running lamps and headlights are becoming a major trend, especially at Audi. The auto maker first introduced the idea eight years ago on a concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show.

The concept was a hit with consumers, and designers instantly saw “spectacular opportunities” in the technology, says Audi design chief Stefan Sielaff.

Audi started using LED daytime running lamps about seven years ago on the 12-cyl. Audi A8 and has turned them into a major design theme, putting them on virtually every new Audi model from the A8 to the A1.

“Every light design is different, yet there's no mistaking that every single vehicle is an Audi,” Sielaff says.

Now the auto maker is rolling out LED headlights as well, starting with the top-line A8 and R8 and moving downstream.

The '12 A6, which goes on sale in the U.S. this month, is the latest Audi to be available with both LED running lights and headlamps.

Hella, a supplier of automotive electronics and lighting systems that provided the LED headlamps on the A8, started working with Audi on the A6 headlamp system in 2008. It was available on the '11 A6 in Europe.

The system uses 64 LEDs to distribute light for a variety of driving situations. Besides providing distinctive styling, the LED headlamps automatically create light patterns uniquely suited for driving in the city, country or on the highway in different weather conditions.

“Within a relatively tight front-end space, our design engineers have combined a sophisticated lighting system with a truly ‘intelligent’ lighting system,” says Steffen Pietzonka, vice president-marketing for Hella's automotive lighting group.

The sophisticated lights can reduce glare in fog or heavy rain and provide a broader spectrum of light than traditional fog lamps, Pietzonka adds.

The “intelligent” LED array is one of four headlight systems Hella supplies to Audi for the A6 on a global basis.

Despite the growing popularity of LED forward lighting, Hella's less glamorous products, such as various types of sensors and other electronic products, are growing even faster, says Martin Fischer, president of Hella's U.S. operations.

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