The Auto Refinish Market

By Bridget Klebaur, Associate Editor | October 23, 2013

The auto refinish market continues to struggle, although there are some bright spots.

The auto refinish market continues to struggle although it is slowly growing despite the many challenges, and many are hoping that economic improvements will help the market to grow further.

“We continue to find the market challenging, but ‘challenging’ is getting to be the norm,” said Kerstin Stranimaier, marketing director, AkzoNobel automotive and aerospace coatings. “We’re optimistic that improvements overall in the U.S. economy will help us in one of our most important markets, but I think people there are still being pretty cautious about how they spend their money. In any case, new car sales in North America are doing quite well, and that should be an indicator of more disposable income, including, we hope, that people are more willing to spend money on collision repairs as well. But Western Europe is still very difficult, and now we also have our concerns about some of the growth markets over the past few years – especially Indonesia, Brazil, and India.”
PPG found that they were experiencing growth in value on a global level, due to positive dynamics in countries such as India and Eastern Europe.

“The mature NAFTA markets and Western Europe are more challenging due to trends such as lower miles driven and a decrease in leased vehicle volume,” explained John Outcalt, vice president, PPG global refinish. “Increased use of higher solids coatings and more accurate color mixing systems, which reduce waste, are also contributing factors. On the positive side, PPG is benefiting from a significant increase in waterborne basecoat volume as collision centers respond to stiffer VOC regulations and the benefits of transitioning to this advanced technology become more realized.”

Trends and Challenges
The industry continues to focus on VOC legislation, causing changes within the market.
“VOC legislation will continue to be an industry focus,” said Paul Whittleston, vice president business management, BASF automotive refinish business North America. “Legislative activities have slowed recently but collision repair centers will need to be prepared to make changes to how they do business and they will be looking to their suppliers for answers.”
Strict VOC legislation governing refinish products impact collision centers and products in compliance with regulations.
“As a result, collision shops in Western Europe, Canada, California and, most recently, Delaware and Maryland have made the technological shift to waterborne basecoat systems,” said Outcalt. “Worldwide, there are now some 28,000-plus collision centers using a PPG waterborne basecoat system, including more than 9,000 in North America. Typically in the past, a move to products with lower VOC content did not quite match the level of performance of the products they replaced. From PPG’s experience, this doesn’t hold true with our waterborne basecoat technology.”

The cost of energy continues to be an issue in the market, according to AkzoNobel.
“Energy prices are pretty volatile, but we think it’s likely that they will rise over time,” explained Stranimaier. “Right now, oil prizes are at a two-year high. The long-term trend is certain to be greater demand in emerging markets; places like China and India where hundreds of millions of people are joining the middle class; so it’s hard to see how there won’t be price pressure. For us, that means a continuation of efforts to deliver products that require less energy consumption.”

Reducing Cycle Time/Costs
According to Jim Berkey, director, MVP business solutions, PPG automotive refinish, the overall need to reduce vehicle cycle times and costs is a key issue for auto refinish customers.

“Cycle time performance remains the critical factor for running a successful collision repair business and meeting the customer satisfaction expectations of vehicle owners and insurers alike,” Berkey said. “Cycle time is reduced by one factor and one factor only, and that’s finding ways to work more continuously on vehicles. This means that the collision shop organization must determine the breakdowns in the process that cause bottlenecks and stop work on a vehicle. In response, PPG is focusing on providing shop owners and managers with a full complement of hands-on training and on-site support to guide them through the process of implementing processes and practices that can increase throughput performance and reduce cycle times.”

Berkey explained that a positive customer relationship is just as critical as cycle time performance. 
“We know that the impact of giving the customer an experience that is unexpectedly good is still a major influencer in that customer returning and referring work to others,” Berkey added.

PPG is also working towards faster, more accurate color matching software and tools, as well as keeping technician skills up to date with the changing technologies.

“Given that collision center throughput is key to customer satisfaction, PPG is working diligently to eliminate any bottlenecks in the customer’s paint repair process by advancing our color tools and ensuring fast access to ‘right the first time’ matches,” said Mary Kimbro, director global color, PPG Automotive Refinish

AkzoNobel responds to customer issues by helping to cut costs while maintaining quality.
“With our robust, easy-to-use products with state-of-the-art and interactive online color support we’re helping our customers,” explained Stranimaier. “The other issue with customers – not all, perhaps, but more and more – is sustainability. The improvements we’ve made in our waterborne product offerings are one way that we are addressing those needs. Improving accuracy and cutting drying times are also part and parcel of our efforts on sustainability.”

Whittleston explained that BASF’s customers are becoming more and more concerned with running their businesses and the tools necessary to do so.
Customers are caring a lot more about running their businesses and not just about paint,” he said. “They are looking for tools and services that help them be more effective, productive and efficient.  And BASF has a range of proven business tools that can do just that – from our VisionPlus Online Dashboard that allows collision repair centers to quickly identify opportunities to improve performance and develop strategies to implement corrective actions to our Advanced Process Solutions business tool that is designed to help collision repair centers to improve performance and increase insurance appeal.”

New Technologies and Products
The trends in the market continue to be reducing cost and time in collision centers, as well as sustainable solutions and a reduction in the impact on the environment.

“As we often point out, the critical deliverable in today’s marketplace is designing paint systems that enable collision repair centers to reduce the time and cost of the repair process as well as reduce impact on the environment. PPG is investing the full weight of our global R&D talents to address these mega trends and cost pressures,” said Gareth Hughes, director of technology and global platform marketing, PPG Automotive Refinish.

Whittleston explained that BASF’s development centers around sustainable solutions in order to help their customers be successful.
“More efficient coatings with a focus on reducing a shop’s cycle time without the need to bake the finish are in the forefront of our development,” Whittleston said. “Additionally, we continue to make our finishes even more durable, such as scratch resistant clears which result in less impact on the environment plus a more satisfied customer.  Automobile manufacturers continue to lower the weight of vehicles with the use of new materials such as carbon fiber and aluminum alloys.  We must insure our coatings exhibit outstanding performance over this variety of substrates.”

Stranimeier explained that in terms of new technologies, AkzoNobel strives to make smarter coatings.
“By that, I mean that we’re not expecting coatings that change color on command, or that generate their own energy, or that are 100 percent scratch resistant any time soon,” she said. “But we’ve already got self-healing coatings and we’ll continue to improve that sort of functionality, and some of the colors and effects that we achieve right now are almost magical. We did some amazing colors for the McLaren MP4-12C supercar that seem to have depth and an inner light, so that’s an example.”

In terms of new products, PPG continues to advance the availability of a total waterborne refinish system with the launch of two new waterborne primer surfacers. Envirobase High Performance EPW115 Waterborne Speed Prime and Aquabase Plus P950-5505 Waterborne Primer Surfacer are designed to further reduce the cycle time performance of PPG waterborne systems, while providing excellent adhesion and reducing solvent emissions in the workplace.

Axalta Coatings Systems offers a number of products for the automotive refinish market. The company’s flagship brands include Stnadox, Spies Hecker and Cromax( formerly DuPont Refinish). Axalta Coating Systems recently announced Cromax as the new brand name for DuPont Refinish, a leading global brand of automotive refinish systems. The Cromax family of brands promises improved productivity, backed by products engineered for easy, quick and accurate application, according to the firm. Cromax includes all of the product lines that are part of the DuPont Refinish franchise today such as Cromax Pro, Chroma Premier, ChromaBase and Centari.
Spies Hecker has introduced Permasolid Spectro Sealer 5450, a premium 2K high solid system that can be used as a wet-on-wet sealer, underhood color or as a flexible sealer for plastic repairs.  Fast and easy to apply, this low VOC sealer delivers excellent coverage and a smooth finish, according to the company.

Designed for use with all Spies Hecker basecoats, Permasolid Spectro Sealer 5450 can help increase productivity and profitability. Spraying requires 1.5 coats with no flash-off time between coats.  

Permasolid Spectro Sealer 5450 is currently available in black and white. Red, blue, green and yellow will be available in 2013. All colors can be mixed together to get an unlimited number of colors, including shades of gray.
PPG also recently launched D8115 matte and D8117 semi-gloss clearcoats as a system for creating a wide range of low-gloss finish levels.

BASF recently launched the Onyx HD Low VOC productive system, which produces low VOC basecoats that are either waterborne or solventborne.

AkzoNobel latest product innovation is an upgrade to the waterborne system in their premium Sikkens line. Autowave 20 is a refined version of Sikkens Autowave.

“The new version improves performance, color accuracy as color result is more robust towards application circumstances, better appearance in combination with clear coats and ease of use (sprayability and blending), and importantly, it also speeds process time, something our end users in bodyshops always welcome,” said Stranimaier.
AkzoNobel has also made major organizational development with the integration of their Specialty Paints business into Specialty Finishes, which provides coatings for difficult to apply plastic substrates for interior and exterior automotive coatings.
“The other development to mention is the progress we’ve made on our huge manufacturing site in Changzhou, China,” Stranimaier said. “Construction has proceeded pretty much on schedule, so we are still looking forward to moving in and starting up production next year.“

PPG recently opened an automated color-matching laboratory in Cleveland capable of running 24/7, doubling the number of color matches PPG was capable of producing annually.