Even in the fast-paced automotive industry, consumer taste is in the slow lane when it comes to color choice. Once a color hits the top of the popularity charts, it takes years for consumers to grow weary of it. And, as it has been for a number of years, silver remains the hot shade in the showroom and on the road.
That's music to the ears of pigment suppliers that sell metallic pigment technologies to the paint and coatings industry.
"Silver has definitely become a primary color within the automotive business in past years. Analysts say that this trend will last until 2005," said Frank Jischke, director of sales and marketing at Eckart America.
"While it is leveling off, silver is still a primary color," agreed Rob Souerwine, manager of applications and technical service at Silberline.
As car buyers remain smitten with silver, the paint applied to cars and the people behind them are moving on, so to speak. Luckily for metallic pigment suppliers, designers are on the prowl for new finishes with "metallic" flair for model years as far out as 2007-2008. Color specialists at automakers and paint companies alike are enhancing and tweaking more chromatic colors such as blues and greens with metallic pigments.
"Analysts say that polychromatic colors such as blues are being used extensively in styling work. This is already a large trend in Europe and is coming to North America," said Mr. Jischke. "Metallic pigments as well as other special-effect pigments are used in combination with other colors in order to achieve unique finishes and special metallic colors."
Now hitting the streets are vehicles with finishes made using colored and coated aluminum pigments. For example, Chevy's 2003 Silverado SS is offered in arrival blue, a shade made by Nippon Paint using blue colored aluminum pigment.
"The colored flake gives a more chromatic color and allows us to use less pigment to achieve that," said Al Gentz, a color engineer with Nippon Paint Color Design Studio of America in Clinton Township, MI.
Additional chromatic metallic finishes are being used on vehicles made by a number of different car companies.
Holden, the Australian division of General Motors, offers its 2003 limited edition Commodore Equipe in vespers blue, a dark blue metallic, as well as a pale olive green metallic called martini grey. Ford recently unveiled the new 2004 SVT Mustang Cobra with the Mystichrome color-shifting paint scheme. The paint, made by DuPont Performance Coatings, has a "pinch" of aluminum flakes that gives it that metallic sparkle many designers crave.
|Chevy offers three distinct metallics on three different Cavalier models. The Cavalier 220 turbo sport (left) is coated in stealth gray, a two-coat metallic paint made by Nippon Paint.|
Even so-called "entry-level" vehicles are being offered in more sophisticated silver finishes, a color choice which had been exclusive to the luxury and high-end performance car markets.
According to Lorene Boettcher, manager of global design and color marketing for PPG automotive coatings in Troy, MI, silver was first seen on vehicles such as the Audi TT, "and it just took off from that. It looked very modern; everyone had to have it," she said.
An example of this trickle-down trend can be seen on Chevy's Cavalier, which now offers three distinct metallics, including two silvers, on three different vehicles. The 220 turbo sport is coated in stealth gray (a two-coat metallic paint made by Nippon) and the 2.2 turbo's finish incorporates aluminum flake silver. For the Z-24 Cavalier model, Chevy opted for a tri-stage metallic red.
And while it doesn't help sell more product to OEMs, silver metallic is one of the best colors in resale value, according to the National Association of Fleet Resale Dealers-good news for pigment suppliers who sell products to paint makers operating in the $5-6 billion refinish market.
Going For the Golds
As silver keeps its elite status with car customers, another metallic is garnering attention with designers. Industry insiders are predicting an increase in the use of golds.
"Gold, and all its various shades, is also returning in popularity, a trend which will accelerate in the coming years," Mr. Jischke said.
Based on research culled from its 2002 color trend forecast, DuPont reports that light brown is being infused with gold metallic effects, making this once "middle-of-the-road" color more vibrant and appealing.
PPG is also predicting a resurgence of gold. Yet to deliver more modern versions of the color, the company is looking back in time for inspiration.
"Gold is very popular in luxury, but we are looking at new ways of expressing gold by taking cues from past decades," commented Ms. Boettcher. She said golds found in antique furniture and and fabric are inspiring new shades for cars and trucks.
In addition, PPG is also working on a "super luxury red" that incorporates a gold mica, according to Ms. Boettcher.
New Pigment Products
Metallic pigment suppliers have been working in the R&D lab developing new products to meet marketplace demands. These range from creating cleaner, brighter shades to formulating metallic pigments that are more effective in powder coatings-one of the faster growing markets in the paint business.
As this issue went to press, Eckart America was rolling out Supergold, a new line of gold bronze pigments offering cleaner and brighter optical properties.
"We are actively responding to the gaining popularity of gold bronze effects. This extended line of gold bronze shades and new grades will answer the growing demands of the marketplace," Mr. Jischke added.
According to Bharat Adhia, president and COO, Eckart America L.P., this new line delivers on this request with "genuine gold bronze colors, not imitation gold-type or gold-effect colors made from colored aluminums or pearlescent bases."
Manufactured in Eckart's U.S. facilities, Supergold is offered in 15 different shades. Each color is available in a number of grades at different micron sizes that range from coarse (35µ) to medium coarse (27µ) to medium (17µ) to fine (10µ).
For powder coatings, Silberline has developed Silbercote PC X series, a new line of dry aluminum pigments for coatings applied by electrostatic or tribo spray. Incorporated by a dry blend technique, the pigments are packaged in two-kilo bags for ease of handling, economics and safety, according to the company.
Using advanced inorganic passivation, Silbercote PC X series combines excellent chemical resistance with reduced Faraday Cage defects and superior recyclability. In addition, very bright tarnish-resistant effects can be achieved in a one-coat application, according to Silberline, which recommends end users add a clearcoat for high-performance exterior durable applications.
Silberline is also readying the launch of more new products, including a second generation of StarBrite, according to Mr. Souerwine.
Bring Us Something New
All of these new product developments stem from the never-ending cycle of answering customer needs. In the automotive market, car buyers want better looking finishes on their vehicles, which puts pressure on paint suppliers to demand pigment suppliers push their technologies further.
"Some of the technologies we have now lends itself to create more intense color," said Jerry R. Koenigsmark, manager, North American color development at PPG North American automotive coatings.
While paint companies are satisfied with the advances made in recent years, they still want more.
"Everyone wants brighter silver, an almost-chrome. But right now the technology to get us further is at a standstill," said Mr. Koenigsmark. "We are always looking for something that will be brighter."
According to Mr. Gentz of Nippon Paint, when it comes to colored aluminum technologies, blue, green and gold work well, but the current crop of reds could use some fine-tuning. "The red isn't a true red, it's more russet, which can be good or bad depending on what color you are going for," he said.
A car company's need to differentiate itself in a crowded marketplace is behind much of the color exploration under way at PPG, said Ms. Boettcher.
"All colors in the spectrum have been done," she said. "So how can we make them different? How can we make red metallic different than others that have been done before?"
Forging a close relationship with a metallic pigment supplier would be a step in the right direction.