Luminari sounds like a description of the Academy Awards' audience, but it's also the name of Osram Sylvania Inc.'s new family of lighting systems designed to meet the changing needs of automakers.

The product lineup increases design flexibility as well as performance and safety, says the company, as the systems make their debut at the SAE Exposition in Detroit. The lineup includes Luminarc, a high-intensity discharge system appearing on the 1995 1/2 Lincoln Mark VIII. Osram cites advantages including improved aerodynamic styling.

Other members of the family include Luminescent-brand lights, subminiature fluorescent lighting for instrument panel back lighting, and Luminon neon brake lighting, which makes its first appearance on the 1995 Ford Explorer. That system claims a faster rise time for brake lights - translating into an extra 24 ft. (7.3 m) of stopping distance for a following driver, says Osram.

All of the new lighting systems are more energy-efficient and may even last the life of the car, says President Dean T. Langford.

Osram's automotive and miniature lighting division products also include halogen headlamps and capsules, as well as miniature lamps for exterior and interior lighting and signaling throughout the car. Division headquarters are in Hillsboro, NH, and manufacturing plants are located there, as well as in Seymour, IN, which gets a second major expansion. It's part of a capital-investment program that sets aside 10% of Osram's annual sales for growth, Mr. Langford says.

The company's electronic components and materials division, with products including automotive connectors, is headquartered in Warren, PA, and has manufacturing plants there and in four other North American locations. The Warren plant is implementing a Total Cycle Time strategy and has reduced order turnaround time by 57%, Mr. Langford says.

Osram Sylvania, based in Danvers, MA, says it's the largest automotive lighting supplier in the world. Lighting products as well as precision materials and components used in other major industries are produced by about 12,500 employees at 30 manufacturing plants and eight research and development laboratories in North America.

The lighting business formerly was GTE Electrical Products Group until it was acquired by Osram GmbH, a Siemens company, in January 1993. The two years prior to the acquisition were stressful for the company and its employees, who knew a sale was pending, Mr. Langford says. But the company managed to land on its feet, keeping all customer contracts intact, he adds.

After the sale, hundreds of projects involving thousands of employees were initiated to make the company more competitive, Mr. Langford says. All changes -- at a cost of $80 million -- were completed successfully in eight months, and the return will be $100 million per year in cost savings.

During its first year as Osram Sylvania, sales of $1.5 billion were above budget and 1994 sales finished at $1.6 billion. "We've continued to grow quite well," Mr. Langford says. "I think we've had strong success in many of our businesses." The company has a 70% market share at the original equipment manufacturers' level and 33% of its total business is automotive-related, he says.

Other lighting news coming out of SAE includes the introduction of Robert Bosch Corp.'s variable-pattern headlamp. The system, currently under tests by a European luxury carmaker, is designed to provide the optimum light pattern for all driving conditions.

Using sensors to analyze speed, steering wheel position and environmental conditions, the system will control the distribution of light with mechanical, electrical and optical components. The result is a long light pattern when driving straight at high speeds and a wide pattern for city driving and illuminated turns.