AD #1404 – EU Car Sales Rebound, VW XL1 Tech Trickles Down, LED Lamps Growing Complexity

June 24th, 2014 at 11:58am

Runtime: 8:08

- Eaton Avoids Big Fine
- EU Car Sales Rebound
- VW XL1 Technology Trickles Down
- Takata Airbag Recall Expands
- Dealer Survey Shows Trust Gap
- LED Headlights Growing Complexity

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Hello and welcome to Autoline Daily. Coming up we’ll take a look at how technology from Volkswagen’s XL1 has started to trickle down into other models, we have an update to the air bag recall and later in the show I’ll take you back inside the Autoline Garage. But first lets get to the news.

Earlier this month we reported that the Eaton Corporation could have to pay supplier company Meritor a staggering $2 billion for violating antitrust laws. But now Bloomberg reports that Eaton avoided that by agreeing to pay Meritor $500 million before heading to trial. Meritor sued Eaton over restrictive contracts and unfair rebates for the marketing of truck transmissions which resulted in Eaton gaining 90% of the market.

You can’t have a healthy auto industry when the European market is flat on its back, but maybe that’s starting to turn around. May was the 9th consecutive month that sales were up in Europe, and up a decent 4.3% at that. And while Germany and the UK have been leading the increase, it looks like sales are up across the EU market. In fact, Italy was the only of Europe’s five major markets to see its sales go down.

Last year Volkswagen introduced a sleek, futuristic looking plug-in diesel hybrid in Europe called the XL1. Oliver Schmidt, the head of Powertrains at Volkswagen of America, says the company refers to it as its Formula One car, because it was originally designed to travel 100 kilometers on 1 liter of fuel. Oliver tells Autoline “The XL1 was to showcase what’s possible with fuel economy but now the step is to bring this technology to other vehicles.” And it’s already starting to happen. The hybrid module in the XL1 is the same exact one that’s in the Jetta hybrid. Plus the company is looking at using the XL1’s camera technology that replaces rear view mirrors. This helps improve the car’s aerodynamics which helps fuel economy. The system has been approved in Europe but Oliver says VW needs to discuss with NHTSA about implementing the cameras.

Well we have an update to yesterday’s story about the recalled Takata airbags, more automakers have joined the list with affected models. BMW is recalling some 3-series models from ‘01 – ‘06, Chrysler is calling back some 2006 Chargers and Ford will recall some Mustang’s, Ranger’s and GT’s. Most of these affected vehicles were sold in high-humidity areas because NHTSA found that moisture played a role in the problem. Click the headline in the transcript to get all of the details.

Not many people enjoy the car-buying experience, so it’s not too surprising that a new study from TrueCar shows there’s a gap in trust between the consumer and dealer. But the report also found that car buyers would be willing to pay more for cars if they felt there was more transparency in the process. Most people believe that dealers earn 20% profits on average from a sale but that number is less than 4%. TrueCar’s survey found that most consumers believe a fair amount would be up to 12%. And you can be sure we’ll hear more about this survey on Thursday night because our guest on this week’s Autoline After Hours is the President of TrueCar, John Krafcik. We have had some really good interviews with John in the past and I’m sure this one will be no different. So make sure you tune in this Thursday night at 6PM for some of the best insider discussion in the industry.

Coming up next, why a U.S. regulation holding back new lighting technology might not be such a bad thing.

The world of automotive technology is a rapidly changing industry. One such area is lighting, however a few luxury automakers have run into roadblocks trying to introduce their improved systems into the American market. But I say maybe that’s not such a bad thing because sometimes customers are the ones left footing a hefty repair bill just so automakers can say they have the latest and greatest technology in their vehicles.

LED headlamps definitely illuminate better than halogen ones, but as I pointed before they can be much more expensive to replace because you can’t just replace one LED. Even still, more and more automakers are adopting LEDs because they can be packaged in smaller spaces and are more efficient.

Now we’re seeing luxury automakers like Audi and Mercedes coming out with their new and improved LED headlamps. So, they must illuminate better, be packaged smaller and more efficient than ever before, right? Well I recently got to take a look at a dissected version of Audi’s Matrix LED headlamp, and I’m not so sure. Just take a look at what it takes to make these things work.

First off, everything that lights up is an LED, which all require their own heat sink to cool them down. There are 18 LEDs that comprise the turn signal alone. That normally might not be too bad but the turn signal lights up sequentially so each one requires its own heat sink. Not too packaging friendly. Then there’s the fan and vents that blow on the LEDs to keep them cool and reduce condensation. Oh yeah, the fan is mounted inside the housing and if it goes bad the LEDs will overheat and no longer work. A few of the Matrix headlamp’s safety features are there’s no switch needed for high and low beam, high beams are always on because the lights will adjust themselves, they help illuminate around corners and will also shut off banks of LEDs as not to blind oncoming traffic. While that’s pretty neat, it also translates into a spaghetti-like mess of wires and a small computer required to control those features.

Put it all together and the assembly is no smaller or lighter than your average halogen headlight assembly. And I’m willing to bet with all that’s required to control the thing, that’s it’s no more efficient as well. Oh, and there’s the price. Are you ready for this one? A little over $3,200, which is about 2,350 Euros and that’s not including the labor to replace it.

So are these new fangled LED headlamps really that much better than ones that are currently out there? And the cost, it makes the price of current LED headlamps not look so bad. This maybe one time that U.S. regulations holding back technology is not such a bad thing and one piece of trickle down technology I hope not to see anytime soon.

But that’s a wrap for this Autoline Garage…

And look at the time, it’s the end of Autoline Daily as well. Have a good day and we hope to see you back again tomorrow.

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42 Comments to “AD #1404 – EU Car Sales Rebound, VW XL1 Tech Trickles Down, LED Lamps Growing Complexity”

  1. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I for one am not a big fan of led’s.They are advertised as ‘last 10 times longer’ and I have yet to see that happen,even in flashlights.Since they are not on all vehicles for sale here,I will limit my possibilities to ones that don’t have them.Problem solved.Good show Sean.

  2. Brett Says:

    A heat dissipating device is a “heatsink” or “heat-sink”. I’ve never seen “sync” used in that fashion. “Sync” usually refers to “synchronization”.

    The headlight you describe seems to be illustrative of an engineering department’s fascination with a new technology aided and abetted by the marketing department.

  3. Bradley Says:

    LEDs are our future.

    LEDs produce less heat than any other light source for cars. If there is heat, its because of the power supply and not the LED.

    Designers are screwing these up for a few reasons IMO:
    1. They are small..real small. So they can do all kinds of things.

    2. The CORE car is too expensive to allow designers free range. So the product managers allow the designers more free reign on supplemental items.

  4. Lex Says:

    Great Show Sean!

    I totally agree with your regarding the subject of LED lighting. They are just too costly for the marginal benefit. Finally, someone in the government did a cost benefit analysis on these LED Headlights. I thought LED’s were going to reduce packaging size and complexity, boy was I wrong! I can see why the US Auto Fleet is at it’s oldest ever. People do not want the added expense of these new gizmo’s. How do these LED lights effect your insurance rates? At $3,200.00 a pop they are extraordinary expensive.

  5. Jon M Says:

    From my experience, I say there is little transparency with car dealerships. So many just want to get all your information and only give you a final number, usually in the form of a monthly payment. Still, I love the car buying experience and if the dealer (salesman and manager) don’t discuss their numbers with me first, then I don’t talk. And getting all the numbers out of them is like dealing with a three year old, you have to keep reminding of what you want when they keep responding with just a final number.

  6. marshy Says:

    Just wait until we get the laser headlights. (Which I understand are also being held up by regulatory bodies.)

    I cringe at the thought of a small fan in my headlight assy. That’s going to be the downfall of one of these lights. That or a stone from the car in front of you.

  7. Bradley Says:

    4% seems incorrect.

    If a dealer sold 100 40k cars a month, that would only be $160,000 a month.

    Subtract from that Building expenses, sales people salary, etc. and there isn’t much cash left.

  8. Sean McElroy Says:

    #2 – Yes you are right. It’s heat sink. Forgot to change it before publishing the transcript. Thanks for catching that.

  9. Lex Says:

    I always though a dealership does not really make a huge profit on new vehicle sales. The real money can be found in the financing and service areas of the dealership. Dealerships in my experience that have good reputations are mostly based upon the service not on sales experience. A vehicle is a large financial investment which you rely on each and everyday like your home. Dealerships that “Move the Metal” understand this ideal and attempt to make the buying experience as painless as possible so that when you need routine service your first choice with be their dealerships service department. If I have a poor experience at my original “Purchased From” dealership their are plenty of other dealerships trying to earn my business in the area. An email to the OEM does not hurt either if you have had a bad experience at a dealership and want to voice your dissatisfaction.

  10. Mike Says:

    A couple of semantic things for you. Earlier folks were right: It is all about heat sinking. the power density for LED’s that produce the needed levels are high and this needs to be removed from the device to keep it from melting. Heat sinks do that.

    Second point of semantics: from Wikipedia: a “Lamp” is defined as “a replaceable component such as an incandescent light bulb, which is designed to produce light from electricity.” Most LED (light emitting diodes) are not in fact “lamps” or “bulbs”. These are both old technology terms that do not really reply.

    Of greater technical interest is the fact that LED’s just hate the electrical system of the vehicle and it’s transients and noise. The cost of the Circuit board and components needed to protect the LED’s can be the most significant part of the lighting system cost. One, I worked on, for Cadillac was on the order of $30.

  11. G.A.Branigan Says:

    here’s something ‘new’….kinda

  12. MJB Says:

    Boy, at $3,200 a pop for those new LED headlamps, you’d almost be better off just rear ending a parked car every time a headlight goes out and paying your insurance deductible…

  13. Mike Says:

    Here is a link to one of the best articles I have read regarding the Cavalier, the ignition switch, and the fatalities. The switch gets blamed when really the fact the driver was perhaps intoxicated and without seat belts is/was really part of the problem.

    We the car buying public have been the victims of the airbag lobby to the tune of 10′s of billions of dollars. They are called supplemental restraint systems because they were originally meant to help protect those who weren’t smart enough to hook up their seatbelts. A relative was in a $200 fender bender that resulted in a broken arm and lacerated head due not to the collision but due to the airbag. The car was totaled because the dash was ripped apart and the windshield was broken not by the crash but by the airbag.

  14. marshy Says:

    @GA…hmm I see way more moving parts and seals than the good ole wankel ever claimed.

  15. G.A.Branigan Says:

    With the widespread use of smt,the circuit boards for led lighting is easily,and cheaply produced.Heat sinks aren’t anything special in terms of manufacture either.Where it gets expensive is in the complexity of the particular ‘lights’ they are making.IF they would just do the led headlights,separate led signal lights much as we have had,and kept it SIMPLE,then led’s would be cheaper and better then halogen etc.But nooo,they have to make them do all kinds of tricks just to suck you in and spend a fortune on what was once simple and effective.Automotive engineers,can we throw some rocks at them when they get stupid? ;}>

  16. Kit Gerhart Says:

    To me, LED’s make sense for tail lights, indicator lights, etc., but not headlights. Those applications are lower power and should’t need the complexity of fan cooling. Also, unlike headlights, those applications don’t need to project light like headlights. I’m fine with quartz-halogen bulbs, and I’d rather see headlights take another step back, to glass lenses. Unlike polycarbonate lenses,glass is either broken, or as good as new, even when 50 years old. I like that.

  17. C-Tech Says:

    At the traditional dealer, the new car you buy is really a “financial vehicle” to them. The money earned from financing, service contracts, and accessories is where the profits lie.

  18. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ marshy: Yep,but 13 moving parts ain’t so bad IF it works in real life.

  19. RumNCoke Says:

    I guess this relentless march of technology is putting the last nail in the coffin of the independent repair shop. Too bad really. I liked having my local “guy”. Now he’s just a part of history like the full service gas station attendant or the free Texaco road map.

  20. w l simpson Says:

    lex reminded me—I was a Ford “service tech” in the 50′s & if a customer was smart enough to
    contact the district service office when he was unhappy, The local sales or service manager soon rec’d a fat business envelope edged in black , which meant that customer got immediate
    attention & satisfaction or heads would roll!

  21. Chuck Grenci Says:

    I see no reason why an LED can’t be built with pins (like other lighting source bulbs) and be replaceable by opening the encasement, pulling out the old one and inserting a new one; I don’t believe they have to be integral to a circuit board via solder. Early circuit boards incorporated transistors, power diodes and other electrical components into the circuit board via sockets. If engineered, these high dollar lighting systems could be repairable by doing the same.

  22. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ Chuck: It’s not really the led’s that fail as much as it’s the circuit boards,(smt components)that tend to fail.At least that has been my experience.

  23. Bradley Says:


    Yea, LEDs are extremely reliable. Those that will fail do so in the first hours of running. Manufacturers burn them in by running them for a 10s of hours before selling them.

    LEDs can fail, but its very rare in comparison to other technologies.

  24. Mike Says:

    I would say to that it is similar to the argument of Vacuum tubes versus transistors. The transistors were so much more reliable, it no longer made sense to go to the expense of putting a “socket” in there so they could be replaced.

    #15 Sometime, have a look inside the rear quarter on a Cadillac CTS wagon. Surface mount and all, the noise suppression electronics needed to protect the LED’s were complicated and expensive. The circuit board is about 4″X6″ with maybe 75 components including ferrite chokes, diodes, IC’s etc.

  25. Chuck Grenci Says:

    Thanks G.A. #22 for that clarification:
    So then it is still up to the engineers to design more robust circuits (re circuit boards) that can handle the drain/draw; maybe external/replaceable drivers, exterior to the enclosures (for cooling), and in either case, these multi-thousand dollar assemblies need to be repairable.
    Something as ubiquitous as lighting needs to be (darn near) bulletproof. (especially as going back to Sean’ Autoline Garage referring to removal, sometimes of the front end/fender assemblies, just to get to the lighting system attaching points.)

  26. G.A.Branigan Says:

    I’m really glad that Sean brought this to light,(groan)….My next truck purchase will be in the next year or two.If all of my choices have led headlights I just might be out of luck,but I’m wondering if the aftermarket will come out with affordable replacements,or better still,conversion kits back to halogen.I don’t do much night driving anymore,don’t need to actually so why bother with the so called ‘latest and greatest’.

  27. Kit Gerhart Says:

    The trouble is that LED headlights will be “stylized,” like current LED running lights, and will be unique to each application, making replacement cost very high. If there were some standard format for LED modules, like H4 bulbs which were a standard in Europe for years, the cost would be much lower.

    I suspect the big thing that will be needed to make LED headlights last the lifetime of the car, is to seal everything really well, to keep out water, road salt, sea spray, and the other environmental hazards that cars are routinely subjected to.

  28. G.A.Branigan Says:

    @ 25,Chuck: I’m not sure if they can make them more robust.I don’t know much about surface mount technology other then the fact I can’t see the stuff worth a damn.I even bought an 8x magnifying lamp and I still can’t really identify accurately what I’m looking at,let alone replace said component.Being a ham for the last 24 1/2 years,I used to work on my own stuff…not anymore.The old stuff,which I don’t have any now,I could fix,the new stuff is a blur now,lmao.In any case,heat and moisture are the enemies of electronics.

  29. Mike Says:

    I understand 4 benefits for LED’s. 1) lower weight 2) lower current draw 3) projected longer life 4) Greater design and styling flexibility.

    Downsides 1) greater complexity 2) Electrical system noise/transient/reverse battery immunity
    3) Higher net installed cost. (This could change as volumes rise).

    Of these, what resonates for me, is the design/styling flexibility. The Audi headlights are distinctive. BMW too. You could make the point that within body class (SUV/CUV/Sedan etc.) that a large part of what makes the “style” of the vehicles these days is variations in lighting (front and rear).

  30. Bradley Says:


    When the TV industry went from Fluorescent back lights to LED back lights they didn’t experience the hiccups that are affecting the auto-industry.

    Part of this may be because the TV world didn’t trying to get more brightness out of fewer LEDs.

  31. Kit Gerhart Says:

    It seems that the only real advantage of LED headlights is lower current drain, which might result in 0.2 mpg better mileage in a car like a Prius, and totally insignificant in about everything else..

    The projected life will be longer, if there are no corrosion problems with the circuitry over the years. On the other hand, you normally replace about two regular quartz halogen bulbs over the life of a car.

    LED lights may, or may not be lighter. A 45 year old 7 inch glass sealed beam in my basement weighs 19.5 ounces. I doubt that many LED installations will be lighter. Properly done, they should illuminate better. Yeah, round sealed beams aren’t very good for design flexibility, but there have been some applications with windows in front of 7 inch rounds, like E-type Jaguar, that are among the most attractive cars ever built. No, I don’t advocate going back to round sealed beams, but even those have their virtues.

  32. marshy Says:

    @kit – I think one of the things LED offer is that they consume less energy so require less copper to wire up and smaller controls to switch on/off.

    The second benefit is advanced packaged for styling.

    When it comes to the rear, packaging makes a big difference. Compare the size and depth of a tail-light can in the quarter panel of a car from 2000 vs the size and depth that is now available with a led based light.

    The changes in sheet metal complexity, required sealing and depth of draws and less copper start to add up.

  33. Mike Says:

    @Kit I too liked the front end design of the Series 1 E Jag. Those covers were outlawed by the traffic safety act of 1967 or there abouts. They really made for poor visibility. friends who own such cars tell me that the drivability of the Series 1 after dark is not as good as you would expect. Less aerodynamic for sure but the later un-covered versions were better.

  34. Kit Gerhart Says:

    32, As I remember, LED rear lights made their first appearance years ago on trailers, including semi trailers, because they are cheap. You can have this flat thing with an array of LED’s with very minimal electronics, and they are very visible.

  35. Kit Gerhart Says:

    33, Yep, the design of those windows wasn’t very good for letting light through. As I remember, the windows had some molded in design to make them look better, but it would have reduced light transmission.

  36. Kit Gerhart Says:

    33, 35
    Making it worse, US-market cars at the time probably used non-quartz sealed beams, while those sold in Europe would have had H4 lamps.

  37. Mike Says:

    My understanding of the LED’s at the back of the trailer is that the benefit was the greatly improved shock resistance of the LED’s made for far fewer bulb replacements. The back of that trailer can bounce around pretty good. LED’s were good for fewer visits between the drivers and the troopers.

  38. Kit Gerhart Says:

    37, Makes sense. Many trailers have a really bad ride, especially when unloaded.

  39. Earl Says:

    Dealers are doing quite well, thank you. There’s more dealers than ever putting up new buildings and spending upwards of $5 million. The Company’s all have architects on staff and they show the dealer how to image up his/her new building. All the dealer has to do is hire the contractor and write a cheque. The dealer whose place is up to date gets fast selling cars ahead of the dealer that drags his feet on getting his image up dated. In al, of this I feel sorry for the Chrysler dealer that put up a separate facility to those little 500 Fiats. Hopefully he gets lots of Ram’s to offset the hemoraging over at the Fiat store.

  40. G.A.Branigan Says:

    The led tail lights that appeared on the semi trailers had a standard 1157 base that installed just like the actual 1157 bulbs.Those are still available in todays aftermarket.Caution: if used as a replacement for signal lights,since the led’s don’t draw much currant you must use a low draw signal flasher can.

  41. Lawrence Says:

    Thanks Sean for the heads up in advance of getting the repair bill. Not for the faint of heart.

  42. Stuart Somers Says:

    I work for a large trucking company, with 11,000 trailers. All of them have LED taillights . They only last a little longer than regular bulbs. After a year or so nearly all of the lights will have a few LEDs’ not working. If any moisture gets inside they fail. We have tried several different brands.