Audi goes with OLED taillights on electric concept car

May 26, 2021
Benefits include aerodynamics and thus improved mileage range, the automaker says, as it confirms Rochester's OLEDWorks as a supplier on future models.

Another year, another inroad for OLEDs at Audi. This time, the German carmaker has designed the technology into taillights on a new electric concept car, the A6 e-tron “sportback” model.

Like last year, when Audi built OLED taillights into its Q5 luxury SUV, the company is ballyhooing them for a number of features, including “customizable light signatures.” In other words, Audi drivers can program them to display different looks and patterns from the back. In R&B terms, they can shake a different tail feather as the mood suits. When we wrote about the Q5, we also noted that Audi was also developing a system whereby the OLED taillights could provide warnings to other motorists about road conditions. That seems to also be the case with A6 e-tron.

The e-tron being electric, Audi also singled out another advantage provided by the OLEDs, known to be thinner than LED lighting units which are common on cars today. That thinness translates into a more aerodynamic design, which in turn plays into the overall aerodynamic design of the car as a whole, aimed not just at aesthetics but also at motor efficiency and speed. The A6 e-tron will range over 700 km (435 miles) and accelerate from 0 to 100 kph (0 to 62.1 mph) in less than 4 seconds, according to Audi. And the OLEDs will help.

“The rear end is clearly driven by aerodynamics,” said Philipp Roemers, Audi head of exterior design “When you have a low drag coefficient, you have a higher range on an electric car, and this is clearly visible here in the A6 e-tron concept.”

Roemers made his remarks in a video posted on the OLEDWorks website. Rochester, NY-based OLEDWorks is a leading provider of OLEDs, and will supply OLEDs to Audi on future models, an Audi spokesperson told LEDs Magazine. He declined to say whether OLEDWorks is providing the OLEDs for the concept car. An Asian supplier provided the OLEDs for the Q5, which is still available with the OLED taillights in the German market, he noted, declining to identify the company. Audi had previously worked with Osram on OLED taillights.

Audi first showed the concept car last month at the Auto Shanghai 2021 auto show. It did not say when the car might hit the commercial market. It noted that the A6 e-tron concept makes use of a new Audi architecture called Premium Platform Electric that it will build into fully electric vehicles in the future, including in its “C” class beginning in late 2022, and after that into its “B” class. OLEDs appear to be part of that plan.

The A6 e-tron concept car includes other notable lighting touches, such as programmable LED headlights that Roemers described as “the slimmest headlight you'll find on an Audi model” (have a look at about 1 min 30 seconds on the video).

And, keeping in mind the quaint old notion of using lights for illumination, Audi noted in a press release that “the combination taillights, like the headlights, meet their developers’ requirements when it comes to the traditional functions of vehicle lighting, namely seeing and being seen."

In the case of the headlights, that means “a clearly and brightly illuminated road with headlights that intelligently adapt to the traffic situation, weather, and surroundings, as well as communicate with other road users.” In the case of the taillights, Audi noted, “the ultrabright, homogeneous, and high-contrast digital OLED combination taillights can particularly and significantly increase the level of safety on the roads of the future.”

Other lighting touches on the concept car include: LEDs mounted on the side of the car that project entertainment images onto the ground when the door opens; LED turn signals that project onto the road surface; and video games that project onto a wall in front of the car using a smartphone, intended for use, for example, when the car might be parked at charging station.

While OLEDs are indeed creeping into the product lineup at Audi, they do not dominate the stable. Last week, the company introduced a new A1, A4, A5, Q7, and Q8, none of which appear to have OLED taillights.

OLEDs are different from LEDs in that OLEDs are a thin material that entirely lights up in response to an electric charge. LEDs are single light points. OLEDs were once hyped as the future of lighting, as their thinness would allow them to become part of the fabric of everything from lamps and fixtures to ceilings, walls, furniture, fashion, building façades, and you name it. That has not happened.

But like with taillights at Audi, the technology continues to slowly find landing spots, including in general illumination settings. And OLED vendors are also on the prowl for environments where OLEDs might be uniquely suited, such as in refrigerators and recreational vehicles.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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About the Author

Mark Halper | Contributing Editor, LEDs Magazine, and Business/Energy/Technology Journalist

Mark Halper is a freelance business, technology, and science journalist who covers everything from media moguls to subatomic particles. Halper has written from locations around the world for TIME Magazine, Fortune, Forbes, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, CBS, Wired, and many others. A US citizen living in Britain, he cut his journalism teeth cutting and pasting copy for an English-language daily newspaper in Mexico City. Halper has a BA in history from Cornell University.