Car designers get experimental with radical new tail lights

By DPA | 20 March 2017

GENEVA: Look closely at the tail lights of the new DS7 SUV-crossover from Citroen's upmarket badge for a while and you may start to feel mesmerized.

There is something hypnotic about the clever light show created by laser etching and lens trickery on this car.

Fifty LEDS are combined to give the rear lights of the DS7 an other-worldly, three-dimensional aura.

The car is due to hit the streets at the end of this year and the amazing rear light clusters should ensure that the bespoke five-seater stands out from the crowd.

There was once a time when rear lights were nothing more than white lamp bulbs behind red glass or plastic reflectors.

20170228 DS 7 CROSSBACK - Interior Design Sketch
20170228 DS 7 CROSSBACK - R3-4

Today's designers seem to have discovered tail lights as a playground for trying out new ideas. Some have even elevated them to an art form.

The Geneva Car Show, which ended on March 19, was a good place to catch up on state-of-the-art car light technology.

Renault's Trezor concept is not only one the most handsome cars at the show. Its C-shaped signature rear lighting uses stacks of modern fibre-optics illuminated by a red laser to create an interesting visual effect.

The luxury electric supercar called Ren from Techrules features "starburst" tail lights. These glow across the entire width of the rear spoiler when the driver switches on the lighting or activates the brake pedal.

Audi treated the Q8 SUV concept in Geneva to a space-age rear strip light while Volkswagen's pod-like Sedric shuttle has a rear panel with tail lights wrapped around the rear screen.

Sedric is a robot taxi unlikely to ever go into production in this form yet the lighting concept will probably crop up on most self-driving cars in the future.

 The Techrules Ren electric supercar on display at the Geneva show. — Reuters

The Techrules Ren electric supercar on display at the Geneva show. — Reuters

With no human driver at the wheel, autonomous vehicles need to gain the trust of other road users and that means ensuring maximum visibility. Sedric can even "wink" with its headlamps to warn of its presence.

"We have put LED panels into the front and flanks so that Sedric can communicate by using light," says Johann Jungwirth who is in charge of digital technology at the Wolfsburg-based carmaker.

Thanks to technical progress, car headlamps and tail lamps have been gaining more design attention recently.

They have also got a lot brighter over the past decade. Innovative light concepts can now be used underscore the exclusive look of new models.

LEDs have been around for a few years but some production cars are being treated to rear lights that use organic light-emitting diodes or OLEDs.

Volkswagen-owned Audi is using OLED rear light modules from Osram in the Audi TT RS compact sports car. Meanwhile BMW has added OLED tail lights to the BMW M4 GTS high-performance coupe.

OLEDs do not cast any shadows and they can create a 3D effect when layered over each other. Experts say that as a general light source OLEDs are not as efficient as LEDs. But they have a bright future in niche applications such as for automotive rear lights.

"We are always on the lookout for new technology and we are trying out a lot of innovations on our concept cars," says Renault-Design-Chef Laurens Van den Acker.

But he doesn't see the fibre-optics on the Trezor finding their way into regular Renaults soon. "These things attract a lot of attention and they let us push the boundaries of what is possible," says the Renault man.

And yet the floating rear light clusters on Citroen's C-Aircross design study with their concentric rings of red light may soon find their way into a production version.

Meanwhile the tail lights of the new Range Rover Velar are already available. They herald a new design language for the brand, with twin U-shaped light guides covered by a single transparent cover that wraps around the entire rear end.

The upmarket Mercedes-Benz E Class saloon can now be ordered with glamorous rear lights with what designers call the "stardust effect". This is created by tiny crystals built into the rear stop and turn reflectors.

The tricked-out lights not only look good but can also be adjusted in their intensity to indicate braking urgency, or reduce the impact on following traffic.

But the ultimate car tail lights would probably put Star Wars villain Darth Vadar's lightsaber to shame. They come with the Bugatti Chiron, the world's most expensive hypercar.

Designers came up with a combined rear, brake, reversing and indicator light strip extending 1.6 metres across the entire rear of the car. It contains 82 LEDs.

The signature automotive statement cost a small fortune to get right, designer Achim Anscheidt recalls in Geneva with a grimace.

The ultra-exclusive Chiron carries a price ticket of 2.8 million euros, so it is important that other road-users can see at once that a Bugatti Chiron is driving ahead of them.

After all, the tail lights are the most that drivers will ever see of this extraordinary car, which can touch 420kph on the straights.