Climb into the next generation of DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s minivans and you'll see a light-green glow in the back seats that provides just enough ambient light to sooth a toddler on a dark night.
Settle into General Motors Corp.'s next Cadillac CTS and there's a soft light to illuminate the foot wells and map pockets.
The next-generation Focus, from Ford Motor Co., gives drivers a choice of seven colors to set the interior mood.
Welcome to the newest automotive trend: Car designers have discovered the potential of packaging light-emitting-diode lights in flexible acrylic tubes throughout the interior, giving buyers a new way of looking at cars and trucks.
``We looked at trends in home design for our lighting,'' said Ralph Gilles, vice president of Jeep/truck and component design with Chrysler Group in Auburn Hills, Mich. Gilles spoke during the Jan. 7 introduction of next-generation minivans at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
LEDs, which have been used in brake lights for years, are becoming standard for interior lighting as well.
``They're part of almost every [bid] now,'' said Rob Hamelink, chief engineer for overhead product development with interior supplier Johnson Controls Inc.'s automotive unit in Plymouth, Mich.
For some vehicles, they go to work as a single light, highlighting a particular area - like controls for the center console. But designers also are taking advantage of the flexible light tubes that use LEDs inside clear thermoplastics.
``We're trying to get just the right image into just the right places,'' said Mark Axe, interiors integration engineer for Detroit-based GM. For the Cadillac CTS, that meant creating space from the start of the program. Engineers and designers for the carmaker and its suppliers had to find room on the underside of the instrument panel trim to make space for the light tube.
``This was a factor from the start,'' Axe said.
And it is likely to become even more of a factor, and not just on luxury cars.
``With the LED technology, you have the option of different colors and to really place it where you want it to highlight areas,'' said Dan Vivian, engineering design director for the Hyundai-Kia America technical center in Ann Arbor, Mich. The center developed Hyundai Motor Co.'s new Veracruz sport utility vehicle. ``You can bend it and shape it,'' Vivian said.
``You're going to see this in a lot more entry-level vehicles as [carmakers] try to create a cabin space that really wows the drivers,'' he added.