And the Designers Said, Let There Be Ambient Interior Lighting
By PHIL PATTONJAN. 14, 2007CAR interiors glowed with a strange blue light this year at the North American International Auto Show, imparting a nervous, edgy electricity that seemed to speak to the industrys state of mind part excitement and part anxiety.What it spoke with, mostly, was L.E.D.s in the blue end of the spectrum, and what it promised was a sense that light is capable of providing the style once imparted by stamped metal or molded glass.Ambience was the word much used at the show in connection with light. Everyone is talking about ambient lighting, said Gary S. Vasilash, editor of a trade magazine, Automotive Design and Production, who has attended many auto shows.Ian Callum, the director of design for Jaguar, proved the point. Lighting is going to be the next big thing in automobile design, he said.AdvertisementOf course, ambience, like the chef or the menu, can make or break any restaurant that aspires to be more than a diner. In the car, ambience is created by dramatic lighting on doors, sills and beneath the seats, with footlights and sidelights that lend a theatrical quality to the simple act of opening a door. Luxury cars have offered lighting before, but never with quite such dramaturgy.AdvertisementLower costs for L.E.D.s and the electronics that control them and the development of blue L.E.D.s a few years ago, joining red and green ones have brought similar effects to more modest models. In the next generation of Chrysler minivans, cup holders glow with blue light.Beyond simply giving shape to headlights or taillights, designers are using the lighting itself to create drama and mood inside and outside the car.In the Jaguar C-XF concept car, blue instrument lights set a theatrical tone, and light from hidden sources, like stage lights, plays over a variety of materials. These include leather with the texture of carbon fiber, bright metal fittings and poplar wood that has been scorched. All of this gives the car a sense of occasion, Mr. Callum said. The door sills give a hint of nature, too, with a tatoolike floral pattern.The elegantly detailed 2008 Cadillac CTS won the shows Eyes on Design award (sponsored by the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology) for concept implementation. Its interior took inspiration from recessed ceiling lighting in the home, said Ed Welburn, vice president for global design at General Motors. Cadillac boasted that the CTSs cabin is dressed distinctively at night for a bit of ambience. The tone set by the jewelry on the cars exterior a highly detailed grille and a sharp side vent is matched by the mood struck by lighting inside the car.In the Lincoln MKR concept car, ambient lighting and contrasting colors establish a design language for the brands interiors. The new Lincoln theme of guilt-free luxury combines motifs derived from classic cars like the 1941 Lincoln Continental.The MKRs design was directed by Gordon Platto under the direction of Peter Horbury, Ford Motors executive director for design in North America. The interior, with gleaming accents, dark oak and white leather, has the ambience of an MGM movie set from the 40s. Even the lighting is theatrical; Mr. Horbury gave a name ice blue to the ambient lighting seen throughout the Lincoln.Nature provided inspiration in concept cars from Mazda and Volvo.Mazda introduced a design based on the characteristics of flowing water or windblown sand with the Nagare concept car that it took to the Los Angeles auto show several weeks ago. While the Nagare was presented as a car for the year 2020, the related concept car that Mazda brought to Detroit, the Ryuga, was imagined as a car to be driven relatively soon, in 2010. But it, too, continued to build on the flow theme.AdvertisementIn the case of the Ryuga, a Japanese word that translates as gracious flow, the textured body panels and interior evoke the waves and ripples from carefully raked Japanese gravel gardens, whose waves of stone seem to mimic water. Engineers might snicker, but according to Laurens van den Acker, Mazdas design chief, the Ryugas wavy headlights were inspired by blades of grass heavy with dew.At the Volvo display, the inspiration was more akin to the northern lights. Steve Mattin, senior vice president and design director, moved from Germany, where he worked for DaimlerChrysler, to Sweden to take charge of Volvo design. He has set out to reinvent Volvos design language and turned to lighting as a response to the long days of winter darkness in Sweden.In the XC60 concept for a car-based crossover wagon, lighting emphasizes the Volvo trademark catwalk design the big shoulder that runs the length of the car, along the fender tops and under the greenhouse of the cabin that Mr. Horbury, Mr. Mattins predecessor, helped to establish as a Volvo styling cue. New, wavy taillights emphasize the shape of the catwalk and make the car recognizable as a Volvo, even in the dark.The blue and white interior is like Scandinavian ice. Daniela Rothkegel, the color and trim designer, was quoted in the Volvo literature introducing the vehicle that she sought an interior perception of well-being through ambient light the very special Scandinavian light we get from autumn to spring that shows objects in sharp relief. The XC60s headlights and accents were inspired by ice crystal, the white console and dashboard by a wall of snow, Mr. Mattin said.At the show, not all the attempts at ambience were so high-toned or natural. The new Chrysler minivans have seats and tables that seem ready for family games of Monopoly (or a poker party). Even the oddball Ford Airstream concept, a metal pod with windows framed in safety orange, provides what Ford calls ambient mood settings that include a modern lava lamp and virtual fire. Suzukis gimmicky but fun Flix, an XL7 sport utility outfitted as a rolling theater with pivoting seats and a movie projector, offered L.E.D.s on the floor just like a suburban megaplex.The Bevel, Nissans interpretation of a ride for the empty-nester father, projects the ambience of a grumpy guy wanting nothing more than space for all his junk. The Bevels slit window and boxy rear end is that a touch of the A.M.C. Pacer? are accented with red dotted L.E.D.s.Designed by a team headed by Bruce Campbell at Nissans San Diego studio, the metallic brown Bevel recalls the SynUS, a 2005 Ford concept car that looked like a Brinks armored truck. Shiro Nakamura, Nissans head designer, said the Bevel was a distant descendant of the Cube, the first car done under his administration.But it is a lighthearted effort. Refreshingly, the Bevel is not aimed at the young people with active lifestyles who are repeatedly invoked at auto shows. Nor does it try to evoke an athlete in a tuxedo a current clich about S.U.V.s.No, its ambience is that of dads garage, so full of his stuff that there is no room left for cars or people.A version of this article appears in print on , on Page AU2 of the New York edition with the headline: And the Designers Said, Let There Be Ambient Interior Lighting. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|SubscribeWere interested in your feedback on this page. Tell us what you think.