Today’s trucks use all kinds of 21st-century technology to make towing and hauling easier, safer and more efficient than ever — trailer-sway control, clean and powerful diesel engines and hands-free phone and advanced navigation systems to name a few.
But the exterior lighting we use to see what’s happening when it’s dark still relies on the same technology your grandfather’s truck used. That’s about to change.
GMC’s Sierra All Terrain HD Concept recently made waves with enthusiasts and the media because of its proposed off-road capabilities. While it’s uncertain if the truck, or something similar, will make it to production, one of its features almost certainly will: LED lighting.
Inside the Sierra All Terrain HD’s cargo box were three remarkable light strips running across the front and side walls. Instead of using incandescent bulbs, these lamps used edge-lit light emitting diodes.
LEDs are a relatively new innovation for vehicles. They were first used in brake lights about a decade ago and have expanded their use to daytime running lights and headlight replacements as new technology has increased their brightness and reduced cost.
The reasons behind the move to LED lights are durability, improved efficiency and lower power consumption compared with conventional light bulbs.
The Sierra All Terrain HD did something new with LEDs that we haven’t seen in other vehicles, and it supersedes previous truck lightning solutions. Instead of using one or two high-mounted conventional cargo lamps — like most full-size pickups have bookending their cab-mounted center brake light, or corner lights near the tailgate, like in the Honda Ridgeline — the Sierra All Terrain HD used a few LED bulbs as so-called “light engines” and combined that with highly reflective mirror-like tubes to direct the light around the cargo box. The result was a preview of how to illuminate every corner of a bed even if the cargo box is carrying items that would normally block light from a single source.
The Sierra All Terrain HD's headlights use edge-lit LEDs too. Note the GMC logo etched in center of the stack.
Edge-lit LED technology is used in the latest televisions, where it also reduces energy consumption and reduces case thickness by eliminating extra LEDs that would be needed if the screen were backlit.
A pickup truck can benefit from the same technology.
Edge-lit LEDs can be easily molded and recessed to fit almost anywhere in the cargo box while needing only a single diode to provide light. Cargo moving around might scratch the reflective surface, but it won’t damage the LED source or block the light emanating from another point in an LED tube.
LEDs last longer and can me much more efficient than conventional bulbs. A three-watt LED is equivalent in output to about a 45-watt incandescent bulb, meaning if you’re loading a truck and don’t want to worry about running down the battery, LEDs can stay illuminated with minimal drain on the truck’s electrical system when the engine isn’t running.
But we see uses for LEDs outside of the cargo box. The Sierra All Terrain HD also used edge-lit LEDs for its headlights. We could also see them blended into the exterior sides of the cargo box to provide plenty of light in a dark field at night without requiring the engine to idle, saving fuel too.
When it comes to this technology, the Sierra All Terrain HD is just a hint of what’s to come and what we expect to see in the next generation of full-size pickup trucks.