A new lighting technology soon will be in production that could prove as controversial as high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps.

A number of luxury vehicles already feature light-emitting diode (LED) taillamps and center high-mounted stoplights. By 2008, the first primary forward-lighting applications should be in production, using LEDs as the light source.

Hella KGaA Hueck & Co. of Germany says its prototype LED headlamp achieves illumination levels of 1,000 lumens, comparable with the light output of an HID xenon headlamp. Hella says the system should be in production by 2008.

Consumers may complain LEDs are too bright, says Michael Hamm, head of research and development at Automotive Lighting Reutlingen GmbH, of Germany. But an unusual light source on a new vehicle is bound to excite certain motorists, even if it's not offensive or excessively bright, he says.

LEDs likely will appear in a growing number of new vehicles, but first government regulations allowing them for forward lighting need to be adopted.

Osram Sylvania Automotive Lighting officials say the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. likely will adopt a standard for forward LED lighting before European authorities do so.

LEDs are bright, robust, small, lightweight and easily packaged. They should work throughout the life of the vehicle, about 10,000 hours, compared with 500-1,000 hours for a conventional halogen bulb, Hamm says. LED headlamps initially will be nearly twice as costly as HID lamps and several times more expensive than halogen headlamps.

Meanwhile, Osram Sylvania in June will begin producing in the U.S. a standardized LED for a taillamp for a new vehicle, says Mike Tucker, engineering manager-applications for the lighting supplier. The module uses eight red LEDs that provide braking, turn signal and taillamp functions.