High intensity discharge (HID) headlights, distinguished by their bright bluish tint and high cost, have launched slowly in the U.S., but a key supplier predicts OEM installations will exceed 10% worldwide by 2008.

Osram Sylvania, the automotive lighting unit of Siemens AG based in Danvers, MA, says less than 1% of vehicles in the NAFTA region currently are equipped with HID headlights, and only about 5% of new vehicles in Europe and Japan feature the high-tech headlights.

Nevertheless, Osram is bulking up production capacity in the U.S. and Europe to meet what it expects to be accelerating OE and aftermarket demand.

HID lamps produce up to 70% more light than standard halogen bulbs, and have a longer service life than conventional sealed beams or halogen lamps, Osram Sylvania says.

Their higher light output makes them an attractive option to European drivers accustomed to triple-digit speeds — as well as to aging baby boomers whose night vision isn't up to top-gun standards. What's more, the distinctive tint of HID lights adds a special cache to luxury cars and trucks.

The premium look of the lights already has led to a small boom in cheap lookalike aftermarket bulbs that deliver the desired blue tint — but no extra light.

Despite HID's snob appeal, most U.S. consumers — and OEMs — have balked at the cost: they're usually an $800 to $1,000 option.

But Charlie Jerabek, executive vice president and general manager of Automotive Lighting at Osram Sylvania, bets that rising production volumes, lower costs and burgeoning consumer awareness of HID's superior performance will spur acceptance.

The company is launching new, high-speed HID production lines in Hillsboro, NH, and Berlin, Germany, this year, part of a $150-million expansion in several lighting product lines over the next two years.

Osram Sylvania also says it will be the first to offer authentic HID lamps for aftermarket installation beginning this year.