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The Color of Money: Profitable Lighting for the Outdoor Auto Showroom

When four in five new car buyers say a vehicle’s color can make or break the deal, a lighting upgrade can a powerful sales tool.

Outdoor Auto Showroom deal
8/24/2022

Research confirms that nothing hooks a shopper’s attention like the glossy, lustrous colors of your frontline cars and trucks. And today’s historically low inventories and shifting demographics mean there’s never been a better time to gain the advantage of better light. Are there trade-offs? Yep, and they’re all good. Here’s the case.

Color Me Convinced

Vehicle color matters to the new car buyer – and matters a lot. Research by Philadelphia-based Axalta, a manufacturer of automotive paints and coatings, found that 79% of American buyers said color is important to their choice and half said color is very important.

Vehicle manufacturers know this and spend many millions of dollars each year to research and perfect new paint colors and effects. But beautiful hues, scintillating highlights and lustrous clearcoats can only work their magic on the buyer if those colors and effects are shown in their best light. That’s why the quality of lighting in your outdoor and indoor showrooms is critically important. And most important of all is your lighting’s CRI.

Before You Talk AWD, GPS and MPG to Customers, Talk CRI to Us.

The science of color perception is mind-bogglingly complex. But the bottom line can be simplified into the three-letter acronym CRI, which stands for Color Rendering Index.

Color rendition is the ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of an object in comparison to natural light. The Color Rendition Index, or CRI, measures that ability on a scale from 0 to 100. At the bottom of the scale, all colors look the same. The higher the CRI number, the closer the light source performs to daylight in how it renders color.  If a light source has a CRI of 100, the colors of objects like cars, clothing and food will appear exactly as they would in natural light.

LED lighting with a CRI of 90 makes your inventory of cars and trucks look awesome 24/7 – out on the lot or in the showroom – whether in early morning, at a cloudy noontime and or at night. That’s why many Cree Lighting solutions for auto dealerships deliver 90 CRI or higher.

Why Lighting That’s “Good Enough” Simply Isn’t.

The general purpose of outdoor lighting is to make it possible to see at night, whether for safety and security or to enable navigation and activity. But there’s a very big difference between an outdoor parking lot at a municipal park where 70 or 80 CRI is more than adequate, and the intensively shopped retail environment of an outdoor auto showroom packed with high-ticket vehicles and high emotional investments. After all, if 90 CRI is the specification in grocery stores to make the produce look more appealing, why would you settle for anything less at a dealership where you’re selling $100,000 automobiles?

And when significant money, visual appeal or personal appearance are on the line, a consumer’s reaction to inauthentic colors can be strongly negative. Remember CFLs – compact fluorescent bulbs? You hated them, right? One of the reasons CFLs were widely rejected despite real savings over incandescent bulbs, extensive public service campaigns by governments and massive giveaways by utilities was their poor color rendition: many CFL bulbs scored between 65 and 75 CRI and many people detested how they made things look.

Similarly, research published in the journal of the Illuminating Engineers Society of North America found that people are much more sensitive to a drop in CRI than they are to a drop in light levels. When lighting is reduced just 20 points from 100 to 80 CRI, many consider the resulting colors less pleasant, some will experience that lighting as less comfortable, and nearly all will make more errors in telling colors apart. Lower CRI can make colors look dull and washed out, and the researchers found that reducing CRI just 20 points, from 100 to 80, was as disagreeable and noticeable to most people as dropping the amount of light by 60%. [1]

If 50 (Years) Is The New 30, 90 (CRI) Should Be The New 70.

Upgrading your dealership to 90-plus CRI lighting will make the biggest difference to  your best customer: the 50-plus customer with the most discretionary income, the best credit and the greatest potential for upsell.

With Millennials and Zoomers buying fewer cars, the average age of a new car or truck buyer in the United States rose to 53 years in 2021, and the 55+ age group saw a 15% bump in new vehicle purchases since 2000. This has profound implications for how dealerships should present their vehicles to show them in the very best light.

Why? Because due to normal age-related changes to the eyes and eye diseases, it takes between three and five times as much light for a 60-year-old to see as well as a 20-year-old. What’s more, older eyes have more difficulty shifting from brightly to dimly lit spaces or vice versa, and the retinal cells responsible for normal color vision can lose sensitivity, meaning colors appear less bright and less distinct. Blues especially can look faded or muted.

Nothing helps counter this degeneration like Better Light from Cree Lighting: more light, more uniform light, and higher quality light with higher CRI all help ensure that everyone can appreciate the vibrant colors of a flawless paint job or tight double-stitching in the leather upholstery.

Better Light All Around

CRI aside, quality LED lighting offers a host of benefits to a dealership, from energy savings and reduced maintenance to more uniform lighting, longer useful life and full controls.  The precision offered by LEDs can curtail light trespass and light pollution, and LEDs with tunable color temperature can “warm up” or “cool down” the ambient light to set a mood, boost attention or support a natural circadian rhythm.

Beyond its clear benefits on the sales lot and indoor showroom, 90 CRI lighting delivers a big brand boost in dealership service bays. The dirty, oil-stained and cluttered confusion of yesterday’s service centers has given way to brightly lit, spotless and well-organized facilities that inspire confidence and help keep workers attentive, safe and productive.

Today’s service technicians must examine the color, texture and condition of fluids, belts, hoses and gaskets. Plus they must be able to read part numbers, decals, instructions and display screens.  Providing better light and improved color rendition can help reduce service backlogs and customer wait times by keeping technicians alert and on task.

A 90 CRI Bright Spot In That Inventory Shortage

Supply chain chokepoints are yet another post-COVID reality for dealerships, and computer chip shortages have left many dealers with historically low inventories. You can take advantage of that lull in activity to upgrade your lighting quickly and safely with minimum disruption to your business.

Cree Lighting solutions for auto dealership upgrades are designed to allow installers to work quickly and efficiently whether you are simply replacing luminaires on existing poles and hardware or installing new lighting from the ground up.

When you do upgrade, don’t be surprised if you see a noticeable uptick in turn-in traffic and hear comments like, “Did you renovate?” or “Is this place new?” or “Funny, I drive by all here all the time but never noticed you before.”

With You on the Frontline 24x7.

Cree Lighting pioneered LED commercial lighting, bringing the first viable products to market for both outdoor and indoor environments. We’re still innovating today, paying careful attention to what our customers tell us and bringing them solutions they can’t get from anyone else.

Case in point: our Automotive FrontlineOptic™ Technology is specifically designed  to maximize the appeal of the high-profile flagship vehicles on the front row of your lot. Powered by Cree Lighting’s patented TrueWhite® Technology, our OSQ™ Series and THE EDGE® Series luminaires deliver true-to-life color rendering under “daylight” conditions with 90+ CRI at 5000K. Remarkably, these luminaires retain more than 90% of their light output for longer than a decade – quite a contrast to traditional metal halide lighting that can lose 40 percent or more of its initial light output within the first year of operation and can suffer significant color shifts over time.

The OSQ Series luminaires with FrontlineOptic™ Technology offer optical precision that puts light on target with little or no waste, reducing light pollution while resulting in potential energy savings of more than 50 percent over traditional technologies. The impact of 90 CRI will dramatically enhance the curb appeal of any dealership — making the OSQ™ Series luminaire with the Automotive FrontlineOptic™ a perfect solution for your dealership.

Our own favorite colors? Red, white and blue. Cree Lighting is an American company owned by an American family. Virtually all Cree Lighting brand automotive lighting products are made in America and support thousands of American jobs.


[1] Konstantinos Papamichael, Michael Siminovitch, Jennifer A. Veitch & Lorne Whitehead (2016) High Color Rendering Can Enable Better Vision without Requiring More Power, LEUKOS, 12:1-2, 27-38, DOI: 10.1080/15502724.2015.1004412

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