DaimlerChrylser announces major layoffs. Venerable Oldsmobile runs out of gas. General Motors plans to temporarily shutter 14 plants in North America. These and other recent news stories have painted a not-so-shiny future for the automotive industry.
According to the Freedonia Group, motor vehicle production on a global basis will rise from 54.9 million in 1998 to some 59.3 million by 2003. Of course, some automobile companies and markets will fare better than others. However, when automakers feel the pinch, it trickles down the supplier chain to coatings manufacturers. Demand for motor vehicle coatings is forecast to rise just 1.8% per year to 2.0 million metric tons by 2003, with OEM coatings posting 1.5% growth per year to 1.2 million metric tons.
Despite facing a lean market in the coming years, coatings manufacturers are still making strides in R&D and investing in new technologies. "We all know that this a cyclical business and you have to plan for it," commented Joe Gdowski, global technical director, automotive OEM coatings, BASF Corp.
Planning for the future means a company must be active. Coatings makers looking to continue their success in the automotive market must explore new concepts, launch new coatings and build their business-all to be ready when the market revs up again.
One of the latest accords was a deal between two auto coatings manufacturers based in Osaka, Japan. In the fourth quarter of 2000, Dainippon Toryo merged with Tanabe Chemical Industry. Dainippon Toryo had sales of approximately $472 million (¥55 billion yen) in 2000 while TCI's sales were in the area of ¥4.4 billion. "The accord has increased our share in automotive OEM in Japan and southeast Asia and improved our R&D in terms of quality and speed," said Nobukazu Kawamoto, general manager, international operation, Dainippon Toryo Co. Ltd.
Companies are also seeking agreements with their customers. BASF Coatings was named the sole supplier to Fiat Iveco's Sete Lagoas plant in Minas Gerais, Brazil. A new facility which opened in November 2000, the site can produce 27,000 Ducato and Daily vans per year. Not only will BASF supply surface coatings, the company will be responsible for the entire painting process. This accord marks the beginning of more collaborations between the two firms. According to the company, a deal is in the works that will make BASF Coatings the sole supplier to Fiat Iveco's Madrid, Spain facility.
In the lab, the most recent developments at BASF have been focused on VOCs, and the company has a new development coming to market within the next few months, according to Mr. Gdowski. "From a VOC reduction standpoint, we are close to introducing a slurry primer which is a near zero VOC primer that will compete with powder primers. It has the same benefits as the zero VOC powder and also offers improved chip resistance." The primer can be applied with conventional application equipment, which allows users to put it into an existing application line, according to the company.
In addition, BASF has been working to improve scratch resistance in clearcoats in both solvent-based and lower-VOC coatings and is working on the "next generation" of its powder slurry clearcoat which has been in use in Germany for the last three to four years, according to Mr. Gdowski.
DuPont has had recent success with its powder clearcoat which is applied to 3, 5 and 7 series cars manufactured at BMW's Dingolfing plant. At this site, newly painted cars are covered with a final coat of dry white powder which is baked at 140°C to form a glossy clearcoat. DuPont Performance Coatings (DPC) will supply some 250 tons of product each year to the BMW facility. "We will be supplying material for 500 car bodies a day-that means powder for half the cars produced at BMW Dingolfing," said Thomas Türk, plant manager for acrylic powder coatings of the DPC plant in Landshut. DuPont's Aquafill 2000, a waterborne primer surfacer with a higher solids volume (+10%), exhibits better leveling/appearance and low film build. According to Karl-Friedrich Dössel, director, technology, DuPont Herberts AutomotiveSystems at DPC in Wuppertal, Germany, the product has been introduced at VW, Audi and Opel. Also new is Aqua-Top waterborne monocoat, a low-VOC, high gloss finish that exhibits durability without a clearcoat. This product, according to Dr. Dössel, is being used at MAN Truck and is being introduced at DC Truck.
DuPont's Low Cost Conversion Process (LC3) is a waterborne basecoat with very short flash off-one minute instead of eight minutes that are standard for waterborne basecoats. An added bonus is that LC3 can be used in coating lines that are built for solventborne basecoats. According to Dr. Dössel, this will allow automakers to make a "much lower investment to convert from solventborne to waterborne basecoat to realize VOC reductions." LC3 line trials have been successfully completed at Fiat and Ford.
Other promising technologies are making inroads at different locations. DuPont's ProTect film liquid, a spray-applied waterborne transport protection peel-off film, is under evaluation at Audi, and Opel Eisenach is using a DuPont waterborne clearcoat with superior etch resistance, according to the company.
Special Effects: Fad or Fabulous?
When Ford debuted the BASF "Mystic" finish on its Mustang in 1996, one might have thought by 2001, every other car on the road would be painted with a finish that went from teal to green to blue to violet and back again. But there is a fine line between a special finish that sells and one that remains a novelty, according to some in the industry. (In fact, one automaker went so far as to call the extreme color-shifting finishes the "rainbow trout look.") Most coatings manufacturers and car makers contend specialty finishes will have greater appeal when kept conservative-such as shifting from a dark bluish green to yellow green
"The automotive business is generally more conservative and not so wild and flashy," said Jon Hall, manager, color development and chief designer, BASF Corp. "People spend a lot of money on their cars, they park them out in front of their house and they are recognized with it for several years. They tend to think conservative." While the Mystic Mustang was popular-71,000 people entered a sweepstakes to win the car-its unique finish is sought after by collectors more than John Q. Public.
"We are looking at special effect finishes, for example color shifting paints, only for special cars," said Ernst Lattke of BMW Group. "We feel that our customers often like to look at special effects on cars, but not to buy those cars," Dr. Lattke added.
"What we see from the design people on a worldwide basis is the desire to have those effects in a very subtle way, not very intense or highly color shifting," said Mr. Hall. "There might be color shift there, but closer to what you would find in nature-very subtle, very natural-like the effect you would see in minerals."
"Sensitive and subdued colors are in demand. It is, however, less the effect with a strong flop which is at the forefront, but far more the high-quality, sophistication and innovation that can be created by using new effect pigments," commented Elke Dirks, OEM color designer, DuPont Herberts AutomotiveSystems. "Unusual pastel creations with a range of smoky, frosty 'porcelain shades' and mystical, elegant dark tones stimulate the future automotive range. These innovative colors meet the perceptions of an ever more individualistic customer base."
Understanding consumers' likes and dislikes when it comes to color is critical, according to coatings suppliers Coatings World spoke with. "Paint occupies a very important position in the design process. Color is a significant part of the beauty and the overall desirability of the car," said Mr. Hall.
Automakers have used concept cars to gauge consumer interest in new designs and technologies. Many times the unique design of the car is what draws the most attention, but now more than ever, color is also being taken for a test-drive. Not only is Mitsubishi's RPM 7000 a unique concept vehicle, it is also a means for the company to showcase a special finish. The RPM 7000's unique paint-supplied by PPG- is described as a "dayglow metallic, anodized orange paint" which was "inspired by red-hot exhaust manifolds on race car engines." According to Mitsubishi Motors, this special finish was achieved by combining a "platinum silver base with multiple coats of tinted clear."
While the RPM 7000's finish may be part of future color schemes, what do consumers find desirable today? According to DuPont's most recent annual global color popularity survey, silver is the most popular color for cars and trucks in Asia, Europe and North America. According to Bob Daily, color styling and marketing manager for DuPont Herberts AutomotiveSystems, improved metallics are one reason behind this trend.
Metallics are important to Toyota, which reports that approximately 70% of its vehicle lineup features metallic finishes. (Toyota, with assistance from Kansai Paint and Nihon Paint, has introduced a system using metallic water-based paints for electrostatic painting with reduced VOC.)
Plastics Shape the Future
Cars like the RPM 7000 are also testimony to how automakers are looking to new materials. Along with the ability to create lines not possible with traditional metals, the need to reduce weight to improve fuel efficiency has spurred growth in the amount of plastic being used in cars. According to research conducted by BRGTownsend, Inc., a Mount Olive, NJ-based firm, approximately 150 million pounds of coatings (solids basis) were used to paint automotive exterior panels in 1999, and that number is on the rise.
While plastics can often mean problems for paint manufacturers, new developments in the R&D lab have helped to conquer some of the issues associated with thermoplastic and thermoset materials including polyester sheet molding compound (SMC). New developments for SMC include Red Spot's 2K and UV-cure anti-pop primers and a new product soon to debut from BASF. The company is readying the launch of a new UV cure sealer, a hybrid dual cure product-UV and thermal cure-used to seal the porosity of SMC. This product addresses outgassing.
"The industry has been struggling with this for years," said Mr. Gdowski. "The first run is literally zero on SMC parts because of all the repainting that they have to do correct the porosity. We finally have a product that will totally resolve that problem. Within the next two or three months, we'll see the first production come off line, and if this UV sealer does what we believe that it will, it should increase the amount of SMC that's used in the industry."
Harmonization Means Success and Savings
The top automotive coatings companies have long been global operators-it is the only way they can supply products that meet the regulatory, performance and cost requirements of their global customers.
"European OEMs require their suppliers to follow their globalization and global VOC reduction program. We match this demand by means of our own globalization program which enabled us to introduce a waterborne basecoat and a 2K high solids clearcoat in South Africa, Brazil (BMW and DC) and in Mexico, Brazil, and soon China for VW/Audi, said Dr. Dössel. "The same requirements are being made by U.S. car manufacturers. Here coatings are supplied by our American organization. While both technologies, American and European, are currently still different, we are working on globally applicable and unified technologies. Some of these-like a waterborne basecoat-will be introduced to the market beginning this year."
Operating globally also means making sure all facilities are up to speed in terms of production and certification. BASF's automotive OEM coatings sites in Southfield, MI, Greenville, OH and Windsor, Ontario are ISO 14001 certified, and early this year, manufacturing facilities in Belvidere, NJ, Morganton, NC and Tultitlán, Mexico joined the ranks.
"This achievement demonstrates BASF's commitment to be first-to-market in all aspects of serving the automotive industry, including product and environmental quality," said Raimer Jahn, group vice president, BASF Automotive Coatings OEM business. "A firm dedication to the environment reflects BASF's ECO2 products development and consultation initiative." (For more on ECO2, see Environmental Performance, Going Green, p. 62 in this issue.)
To help customers cut processing costs and cope with rising energy costs, BASF has also created a new concept called "TWINPRIME." According to Mr. Gdowski, "the TWINPRIME process coats the car with electrocoat and then a short flash and then the primer. This eliminates a bake in the primer process. Again it is reduction in facility, a big reduction in time of the process as well as energy costs," Mr. Gdowski said.
When it comes to automotive coatings, there is always room for improvement. Companies will continually work on scratch and mar resistance and the development of more environmentally friendly and economical products. So what are some of the concepts being explored today that might become standard products of tomorrow?
DuPont, through its Vision concept, is exploring new paint options and has come up with "experimental" color families. Among them is Magma, a coating that appears black in normal light, but glass flakes and holographic effects give the finish a strong sparkle when in bright sunlight. DuPont's Spartan includes greens and blues that have "a cleanness and depth" through the use of tinted clearcoats. The company is exploring this concept in silvers and gold by using "an experimental pigment" to create a "liquid metal" effect. (For more on Vision, see DuPont Takes Holistic Approach to Automotive Colors, p. 42.)
At BASF, some work is being done regarding night visibility. "One of the things we are working on now is the ability to make color and finish visible at night," said Mr. Hall. "I think there are many technologies that exist, and some that we are developing, where you can create something that has some reflectivity or certain glow at night. We don't know if it will be successful, but down road, anything that we can do to make vehicles more visible at night so you can better see the profile of the car is a good idea." According to Mr. Hall, other possible applications include school buses and recreation vehicles.
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