Satisfying the color preferences of car buyers across the world is becoming more challenging for producers of OEM coatings and their raw materials.
The choice of colors has been broadening because of the development of new materials and application methods. The technical requirements of the car companies, particularly in the way the vehicles are manufactured, have become more demanding.
Nonetheless the top coatings makers are rising to the task of responding to these needs through the development of new technologies in areas like effect pigments, particle processing and coatings systems.
The test is whether they will be able to maintain the pace of innovation to keep up with a mix of global, regional and local trends in people’s color tastes.
All these factors were highlighted at a press conference on color at the world headquarters of BASF Coatings at Muenster, Germany, in early July.
The event was used by the company’s color designers both to issue their forecasts of automotive color trends for 2014/2015 and to predict some changes in the choice of colors of car owners over the next several years.
These shifts in preferences will be dictated by a range of influences such as fashion, contemporary art and culture and economic and political tendencies. A significant tendency will be a move to the ‘hyperlocal’ with communities wanting more control over their lives while at the same time people will also want to show their own individuality.
“The increase in individuality can be seen as a reaction against globalization,” explained Mark Gutjahr, head of design at BASF Europe. “People have a need for a sense of uniqueness, of things which are special. They want to show who they really are, their true selves but not necessarily in an up-front way. Satisfying all these needs through different colors and surfaces can be difficult with cars.”
Individuality in cars can be shown through shades and variations of the main colors, in which in Europe and much of the rest of the world the top preferences have been altering in recent years.
“The fastest growing color in the European auto market has been white,” said Gutjahr. “Seven years ago white had a market share in the German auto market of three percent. Now it is 27 percent. The main loser has been silver whose share in Germany has dropped from 40 percent to 27 percent.”
The major colors, which in addition to silver and white include in Europe black, blue, red and brown, are having to be modified to suit individual or localized tastes usually with the help of effect pigments.
“We are seeing different whites on cars across Europe depending on the region or country,” said Astrid Van der Auwera from BASF’s global design team. “In some parts of Europe it might have a bluish hue and in others a yellow one with a hint of silver.”
BASF’s designers are forecasting that while demand for white will remain strong, the emerging colors of the future will be red, turquoise and aubergine.
The company has been gaining an increased capacity for differentiation of colors through the development of innovative effect pigments through the thinning and shaping of metallic and glass flakes. These can, for example, make a car body appear bright and dark from different viewing angles with the same coatings.
The XFine coatings of BASF comprise very thin aluminium flake particles which are arranged flat next to the other to provide a mirror effect. The color of the car appears particularly bright on the edges of its body and very dark when viewed from the side.
Its latest effect innovation is the XSpark OEM coating which is based on uniformly shaped and sized particles made of a glass whose exact identity BASF is not revealing, except that it has a similar chemistry to boron silicate.
“A key feature is that due to the consistent shape and size of its particles there is no or hardly any interference with the reflection of the light,” explained Stephan Schwarte, head of BASF’s basecoat pigments/dispersions and color design laboratory. “This means that it produces an intense, precise sparkle that does not have the rainbow colors of other effect pigments.”
With effect pigments being applied on cars in a layer above the colored basecoats, an important result of the XSpark technology is that the clean reflected light of its particles enables a pure color to come through from underneath.
“With the aid of our innovations in effects we’re already able to focus more on the ‘in-between’ – that space between the main colors,” said Gutjahr. “Now withXSpark we can provide the additional special attraction of pure color. It’s all part of the overall ‘wow’ effect with a different visual impact inside and outside full light.”
The new advances gives the company greater versatility in meeting the requirements of the auto manufacturers for colors and effects which are specific to their models.
“They want colors and effects which are unique to them,” Gujahr commented.“They don’t want colors which they have to share with their competitors. Each model will have its own body shapes, lines and contours which need special colors and effects.”
Also new color concepts do not just have to meet the visual requirements of OEMs for their models but need to be consistent with the demands of their application systems.
“The automobile makers have different paint shops so a specific color coating that works in one may not work in another,” said Schwarte. “You have to adjust the colors for different application conditions and leave room in your formulations for this. You even have to take into account the size of pigments particles to ensure they are suitable for the filters in paint pipelines in paint shops.”
The design and performance of robot paint sprayers have to be considered. At the moment they make up an average 20 percent of paint work on new automobiles. But this proportion will be increasing in an effort to cut costs.
“The atomizers on the robot heads reduce the paint to tiny, invisible droplets, which provide a high level of transfer efficiency,” explained Christian Bornemann, head of BASF’s application center for coatings at Muenster. “But several factors influence this performance, such as air flow, temperature and humidity, as well as how the droplets respond to travelling through a 70,000 kW electrical field during the spraying process.”
Innovative colors can take a long time to reach the automobile market—usually approximately two to three years but sometimes as long as five, mainly because of the need for tests, such as those for weather resistance and application consistency. Once a color idea has been conceived the hard task is verifying its feasibility in terms of paint shop conditions and the practical needs of the OEM manufacturer.