DEARBORN – Consumers believe xenon headlights are safer than conventional headlamps – and that’s where the sales opportunity may be for suppliers, auto makers and new-car dealers, automotive lighting specialist Osram Sylvania says citing results of a recent survey.

The study, conducted for Osram by Brand-Aid Consulting of Wrentham, MA, using R.L. Polk registration data, reveals 51% of the surveyed 200 owners of ’03-’05 model vehicles not equipped with high-intensity discharge xenon headlights “believe the technology provides a safer nighttime driving experience,” says Matt Blewett, xenon/HID product marketing manager.

“It all comes back down to trying to bundle this as a safety feature and showing it as a safety item,” he says, adding car manufacturers recently have helped by promoting xenon, as well as high-performance halogen forward lighting, in this way.

The typical bright-white glow of xenon headlamps are created from an electric arc inside a capsule filled with xenon gas.

Blewett says more than ever, car buyers are putting safety at the top of their lists when shopping for new vehicles, with 82% of consumers surveyed rating safety the most important factor – outranking even price – when selecting new cars.

In addition, a vast majority of car dealers surveyed, 97%, say talking up xenon as a safety feature should help broaden its appeal.

However, almost half of the dealers admit they have received no formal training on xenon technology, with 45% saying they don’t try to up-sell xenon if it is optional on a vehicle because so few models offer the advanced lighting.

Dealers also indicate a preference for offering xenon as a standalone option rather than bundling it with other technologies, saying this would make it more acceptable to new-vehicle buyers.

“We understand and recognize there’s still work to do at the dealership level with education of the consumer about the safety aspects of xenon lighting, but by repositioning it as a safety feature we’ll increase the acceptance,” Blewett tells media here at an Osram event.

A company spokeswoman says the supplier is looking at aiding dealers in educating car buyers on the benefits of xenon by doing special showroom demonstrations, as most people shop for new cars during the day, when the benefits of xenon aren’t as readily apparent.

The U.S. OEMs lag the European and Japanese when it comes to xenon and HID lighting applications, with penetration in North America projected at only 9.9% of new vehicles expected to be sold in 2008, Blewett says.

However, some 37.5% of all models available in 2008 will offer the technology as either standard or optional equipment, up from 26% in 2004.

Of the 439 models available in North America today, 135, or 31%, offer xenon lighting, Osram says.

The supplier estimates xenon would cost $400-$800 extra as a standalone option, but it often is grouped with other features in options packages costing more than $3,000.

Volkswagen AG, for example, will offer active xenon lighting in a “Lux” option package for the ’08 Touareg cross/utility vehicle that includes walnut wood trim, 12-way power seats and leather trim. Package pricing hasn’t been released, but the ’08 Touareg ranges from $39,320 to $68,320.

Meanwhile, Osram reiterates light-emitting-diode technology will take hold first as a styling feature, not a safety one, says David Hulick, global product manager.

“The value has to come from how we make it look,” Hulick says of LED forward lighting, adding suppliers have to sell automotive designers on the styling advantages of the technology.

Issues still needing to be resolved regarding the use of LEDs in automotive forward lighting applications include thermal management, due to the typical proximity of headlamps to the engine compartment; design complexity; material science limitations; recovery of the large up-front investment and the lack of standardization when it comes to vehicle and electrical architectures, Hulick says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com