Modern Lighting Helps Reinforce Brand Identity

By Mike Mello


Headlight design has become a major factor in brand identity lately. Lighting technology is one of those areas where designers and engineers can really work together to tune a car’s attitude and there are finally a couple brands that are using this combination of design and technology in a way that one automaker has been doing so for years.

On my way home from work the other evening, I noticed a pair of headlights in my rear-view mirror that were completely new to me. They seemed to follow my line of site as I glanced back, trying to guess the make and model. The attractive, bright white blades were like eyeliner or eyebrows, depending on your view, and were fixed over two equally icy-white beams.

Before long, I pulled to the right lane, intent on discovering the brand and found my answer as the Saab 9-3 2.0T sped ahead. Although I had already seen the 2008 9-3 in the daylight, I was unsure how this Saab’s new headlights would appear when illuminated and the view after dark took me by surprise. The above image shows the 2008 9-3 front end, but a nighttime shot of the lights would really do the design right.

A couple days later, during my second-favorite Super Bowl XLII commercial, another brand showed off its latest headlight treatment. The R8 featured in Audi’s Godfather-themed commercial, made sure that viewers got a good look at its definitive front-end lighting. Surely, anyone who watched that commercial must have taken note of the white headlight lashes which came to life below the main headlight assemblies just before the R8 speeds away during the early morning hours. The image at left is taken from a screen-shot of the R8 ad.
Both of these headlight designs go a long way towards establishing a brand’s nighttime identity, but both, in my opinion, indirectly take cues from the famous BMW angel eyes, which have helped characterize the face of many BMW models for years. How often have you looked rearward in your mirror while cruising after dark, only to see a pair of headlights matched by the soft-yet-commanding illuminated rings, telling you there’s an Ultimate Driving Machine behind you?

Last November, at the New England Auto Show, I was fortunate enough to speak with GM’s Brian Nesbitt, who pointed out how the latest Saabs would use lighting to help develop the brand’s character. By actually seeing the new 9-3 the other night, I’m happy to say that the new lighting has made an impression on me that I will now know as uniquely Saab. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to have a 9-3, R8, and a 335i pull up behind you on your way home from work soon so you can take a look at the variety of lighting for real.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. I, too, have noticed those headlights on the BMW. It really gives the car some personality at night.

  2. I saw a spotless red Audi S5 idling in the parking lot last night as I was leaving work. They also have LEDs under the headlights like the R8 does. I literally stared at the car as I walked past it to my lame Accord last night. Gorgeous!

    The stuff GM is doing with the 9-3 and CTS lights (light pipes) and Escalade Platinum (full LED headlights) is awesome too.

  3. It should be more important to car makers in the future. It’s not that expensive in terms of cosmetic improvements you make to a vehicle.

  4. Personally I’m not sure whether these Audi lights look good or not. Having seen some of them on the road I agree they are distinctive but they look to me a bit like those cheap DIY store lights that people use randomly at Christmas to decorate bits of their houses!

  5. Ever since the new “super-bright” LEDs came into the marketplace, car designers have wanted a piece of the action.

    LEDs have a substantial weight, energy, longevity and cost savings over traditional halogen and xenon offerings, with the added benefit that they’re TINY, so they can be squeezed into as many configurations as you can imagine, and probably a few you can’t. A single LED isn’t bright enough to light the road, so for now the only way to control brightness is to simply add more LEDs.

    Audi sells an “all-LED” version of its R8 in Europe, but not here (we get half-LED/half-xenon). Apparently a whole-cloth LED headlight system hasn’t passed USDOT tests yet. However, a few months back Cadillac released a “Platinum” version of its Escalade which purported to have all-LED headlights, so who knows.

    I agree wholeheartedly about the “eyebrow” lighting treatment on the ’08 9-3, it’s a big part of what made that one of the best refreshes in modern memory. Those same light-pipes can also be found on the ’08 Cadillac CTS as well (except they’re vertical).

  6. A lot of new lights look almost like automotive jewelry. I really like the new look.

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