Automotive Interior Lighting Moving Beyond Simple Functionality

Interior lighting in an automotive vehicle is about space and dimension, but automotive researchers say there's more to it than that.  Researchers realize that as a person's attention span is limited, lighting can play a key role in providing a driver with critical and noncritical driving-​related information without diverting attention.  Therefore, interior automotive lighting moves beyond simple functionality.

Lighting gives you a sense of orientation,” said Mahendra Dassanayake, a Ford technical leader for Design. “It’s a unique combination of functionality and comfort. Lights, graphics and displays are critical to drivers; we need to make sure that information is presented to the customer in an effective way.”

For example, an ice blue color is a shade that can help keep drivers and passengers more alert.  This makes it easier for a driver to absorb all the other messages coming from inside the vehicle.  Automotive researchers also test how lighting affects the vehicle’s interior from the driver’s perspective, checking the textures and materials under a multitude of lighting conditions to make sure that glare and reflection are limited on smooth surfaces and that eye strain is minimized.


The brain does not see color,” Dassanayake said. “What we call color of light is actually a form of electromagnetic energy with different wavelengths.

Light is like a pond, with ripples as the wavelengths. These ripples form and reflect and interact with each other, just like a ray hits a surface and sends a signal and then another sends a signal, and the sensation between the two is what people perceive as blue or red or green.”  Certain levels or combinations of light trigger enzymes in the brain. Those enzymes cause emotional responses within the body – states we recognize as stress or calmness or happiness.

The emotions are created based on the secretions of these enzymes that are associated with certain light wavelengths,” Dassanayake said. “There are certain triggers.”

So it’s not your imagination – color can affect how you feel. In fact, it affects everything from your buying choices to your blood pressure. For example:

  • There are shades of yellow that stimulate parts of the brain, bringing clear-​headed, decisive action
  • Green, on the other hand, affects the nervous system, causing us to breathe slowly and deeply, helping the heart to relax by slowing the production of stress hormones
  • Red – arguably the most attention-​getting of colors – likely will evoke the strongest emotions, be that passion or anger


As automotive sales continue to pick up, industry analysts are increasingly optimistic that "the fundamentals are in place to support an upbeat outlook for the coming year." To that end, J.D. Power recently increased its 2012 full-​year forecast for light-​vehicles to 14.0 million units from 13.8 million — and to 11.4 million units for retail sales, up from the previous 11.3 million.

In addition to pent-​up demand due to an aging fleet, factors driving this optimism include a rebound in leasing and availability of consumer credit and long-​term financing. Through the first 17 selling days of February 2012, lease penetration is at 20%, up from a low of 13% in 2009. Meanwhile, 72-​month loans account for 23 percent of all retail sales in February 2012—the highest level in five years—up from 19% in February 2011. In fact, 72-​month loans have increased in 20 of the 27 vehicle segments, with the largest increases in the compact sporty, sub-​compact conventional and large utility segments.

[Source:  Ford Motor Co. factory release.  23 Feb. 2012.  Web.  23 Feb. 2012; Snyder, Jesse.  "Sales Forecast to Reach 14M for February."  Automotive News/​Crain Communications.  23 Feb. 2012.  Web.  23 Feb. 2012.]