Automotive OEM Coatings

By Catherine Diamond, Associate Editor | March 17, 2017

Strengthened economies worldwide are driving the automotive OEM coatings market.

Strengthened economies around the globe are contributing to a rise in automotive sales, particularly in emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific region. As such, the global automotive coatings market is expected to reach $36.31 billion by 2025, according to a January 2017 report by Grand View Research. Population growth, weather protection and improved standards of living are considered key components of growth in this market.

Moreover, the increased maintenance, repair and refurbishing of older vehicles still on the road are expected to stimulate growth, the report stated. Additionally, researchers found that a growing number of road accidents in countries with adverse road conditions in mountainous areas are anticipated to fuel the demand for these products over the upcoming years –
particularly in Brazil and India.

Growing market, growing regions

Automotive coatings manufacturers are seeing increased growth across multiple regions, specifically Asia-Pacific and South America. According to Tim Knavish senior vice president, Automotive Coatings, PPG, the automotive OEM industry growth rate improved sequentially year-over-year and PPG’s automotive OEM coatings business continues to grow at a rate at or above the industry average. “We expect to see steady growth in EMEA and Asia with modest growth in North America,” he said. “PPG has invested in high growth countries like China and other emerging regions with new production facilities, increased human capital, application facilities to mirror customer lines and localized new paint shop technologies.

These investments have allowed PPG to grow with our customers wherever they are located around the globe.

“For example,” he continued, “last year PPG completed an electrocoat blending facility in Zhangjiagang, China and a plastics coatings (bumper coatings) dispense operation in Tianjin, China. The year before that we completed investments in Sumare, Sao Paulo, Brazil and San Juan del Rio, Mexico that allow us to meet increased demand for automotive coatings in those growing regions. Already in 2017, we have opened a new waterborne and high solids solventborne expansion in Wuhu, China. For the future, we will be building a new automotive resin facility in India.”

Increased activity in both China and India were widely reported by coatings manufacturers. David Fischer, vice president, Marketing and Strategy, Transportation Coatings, Axalta Coating Systems, said that “increasing global production continues to provide growth opportunities for Axalta in particular in China and India. We’re installing additional capacity in India to supply OEMs. In China, our latest waterborne facility expansion is helping to meet customers’ requirements to reduce VOC emissions. But in the U.S. and other emerging markets, as well, there are also growth opportunities. For example, in the U.S. we’re developing coatings formulated to perform well on latest lightweight substrates such as aluminum and carbon fiber.  Our recent acquisition of the rigid thermoplastics division of United Paint now gives us entre into the vehicle interiors business.”

Fischer added that Axalta has recently opened a world class plant to produce waterborne products in Jiading, near Shanghai, and its new Asia-Pacific Technology Center, a state of the art coatings R&D facility in Shanghai, China.

“We launched a coatings production facility in Buenos Aires, a new resin facility in Mexico City and are constructing new laboratories and production facilities in Savli, India,” he said. “These assets help Axalta provide our customers with the global products and service excellence they have come to expect in the more mature markets.”

As a supplier of high-quality coatings for the automotive industry, Sean McKeon, vice president, Global Accounts, said that BASF Coatings benefits from the increasing automobile production. McKeon said he expects overall positive development in OEM coatings based on BASF’s “strong innovation agenda and new products.”

He added, “The market size for automotive coatings is reflected in the development of the automotive industry – therefore, China is of great importance for us. We plan our investments according to the anticipated market development and customer demands for high quality automotive coatings. We have made significant progress in strengthening our position in emerging markets. The groundbreaking for our newest automotive coatings plant in Shanghai, China, the acquisition of Guangdong Yinfan Chemistry for automotive refinish paints, and the expansion of production capacity in Thailand are only three examples.”

Trends and technologies

In addition to the trends that currently drive the automotive market, which include a preference for high-performance metallic color, coatings manufacturers must consider emerging trends and technological expectations. One highly anticipated trend is self-driven cars. PPG’s Knavish said that in order for autonomous vehicles to become a reality, a robust and complimentary automotive and civic infrastructure needs to be developed.

“PPG is at the forefront of developing this infrastructure and is working on improving sensing/intelligent coating sensors, road paint/reflective paints, coatings that allow for clearer, cleaner and more robust camera lenses and even sensors and antennas embedded on the body of a car,” he said.

Examples of this include: the development of infrastructure coatings that are designed to enhance the ability of autonomous vehicle sensors to detect the structure; the development of easy to clean clear coats for sensor and camera lenses that provide improved ability to keep lenses/sensors clean in adverse weather conditions; and the development of vehicle coatings improvements that enhance dark color vehicle detection by LIDAR systems. In addition, he added, the vehicle lightweighting trend means more plastic and composite substrates on the exterior of the vehicle. PPG is developing coating improvements that enhance the radar reflection/transmission properties of plastic and composite substrates.

Knavish said that nearly all of PPG’s customers are interested in low temperature curing paint shops in assembly plants. “This will obviously drive improved energy costs for our customers but also improve the environmental sustainability of the paint shop plus provide tremendous logistics benefits,” he said. 

In terms of color trends, Knavish cited increased chorma and depth as an area of focus. To meet the needs of the market, PPG developed the Andaro tint dispersion technology to give its customers and consumers a broader color pallet by enabling OEMs to reach previously unattainable color spaces. “Using Andaro technology results in 20 percent higher chroma (color purity), 50 percent deeper flop (when a color reflects light in different ways) than traditional pigment technology providing deeper more vibrant colors,” he said.

Knavish shared PPG’s build data, which examines automotive color trends worldwide.

White remained the most popular global vehicle color at 38 percent, up from 35 percent last year. Black (16 percent), silver (12 percent) and gray (10 percent) rounded out the top automotive colors worldwide. And PPG’s research has found that nearly 60 percent of U.S. and European consumers identified color as a major factor in their vehicle-buying decisions.

PPG regional trend highlights from 2016 vehicle build data include:

• North America: White (25 percent) eclipsed black and silver (tied at 19 percent), gray (12 percent), and red and blue (tied at 10 percent)

• South America: White (37 percent) was close to the global popularity level, with silver (29 percent) a strong second. Black (12 percent), gray (10 percent) and red (8 percent) rounded out the top five

• Europe: White (33 percent) was followed by gray (18 percent), black (16 percent), silver (10 percent), blue (8 percent), and natural and red (tied at 7 percent).

• Asia Pacific: White (47 percent) led by a larger margin than in any other region, while black (14 percent), natural (11 percent), silver (10 percent) and red (7 percent) trailed.

Axalta Coatings System’s Fischer said that, according to the company’s own data, for the sixth consecutive year in 2016, white leads in global popularity. “At 37 percent worldwide, it is up two full percentage points from 2015. Asia favors white more than any other region; at a remarkable 48 percent, white appears on almost one of every two vehicles there. With white leading the way, neutrals continue to dominate the light vehicle pallet with black, grey and silver trailing. Silver, once the dominant color, has fallen to fourth position.

He continued, “We do see color coming into the neutrals in subtle ways to add dimension and interest. The 2017 Axalta Automotive Color of the year, Gallant Gray, celebrates this trend by using a neutral base and adding hints of color and light with silver and blue flakes.”

In addition to color trends, Fischer added that the OEM’s regulatory requirements for fuel economy drive light weighting and safety continues to drive changes in the materials and construction methods, which in turn impact what is required from the coating system.

“Ultra-high strength steels, aluminum and magnesium alloys, more plastics and composites including carbon fiber continue to grow and evolve as a percent light vehicle content,” he said. “New alloys and compositions are being developed in each of these categories to create lighter, stronger, more formable materials and each is being targeted where they are able to contribute the most value in terms of weight reduction. This results in multiple materials being used on a given vehicle.

As the material content changes and alloys evolve, coatings must be adjusted to meet the needs of corrosion protection as well as providing a uniform class A finish across the vehicle, Fischer said.

“How these materials react to paint shop conditions such as thermal expansion needs to be accounted for either in the design of the vehicle or future paint shop conditions. The differences in electric potential of these materials is also a concern resulting in new methods of joining and fastening to eliminate galvanic corrosion.”

BASF’s McKeon said that a primary area of focus for the company is additional functionality of the coatings themselves. This includes features such as increased scratch resistance or surfaces that are easier to clean. Heat management is another important topic, he said, especially when it comes to electro mobility.

“Our Cool Coatings technology reflects infrared light and in so doing, reduces the temperature on the automotive surface and interior,” McKeon said. “This passive temperature management reduces heating of the car surface by up to 20°C, which leads to a reduction of 4°C in the interior of the vehicle. Due to the savings in air conditioning, fuel consumption can be reduced or the range of electric cars can be extended. We use the technology to support our customers in optimizing their vehicles’ fuel and energy efficiency.”

Paul Czornij, Head of Design for BASF’s Color Excellence Group, North America, said that additional new trends look to focus both on traditional and newer, more specialized developments.

“The colorant optimizations for higher depth and brilliance continue to push color saturation to new levels and meet the ever-rising consumer interest in more brilliant looking vehicles.

Innovation in colors continue to make use of flaked effect pigments to capture either a sophisticated elegance with a fine, satiny smooth look, or with a more pronounced dazzle and three-dimensional appearance. These effect pigments may be optimized particles in terms of their construction, purity, or particle uniformity, all of which provide the necessary means for color designers to combine them in such ways to stay in line with trending moods and preferences. Recent developments in pigment-coated synthetic platelets, be they glass, mica, or other, expand the concept of ‘metallic and pearlescent effect’ to new heights.

“Still another arena is the exploration of pigment functionality to bring out another aspect of trends,” he continued. “Whether by modifying surface texture and gloss, or acting a certain way to invisibly affect a coating’s behavior for heating up in sunlight, pigments that have these properties fall into increased interest as car makers look to meet the more stringent technical demands of carbon footprint reduction, low toxicity, or new transportation means. Ride sharing, self-driving, and eco-efficient vehicles not only mean potential for new color shades, but those that have the ability to provide more than just looks. Look to see color and special effect trends to remain in step with these demands and continue to both beautify and protect.”

Performance needs

Automotive coatings are driven by performance and durability. In order to meet the needs of customers, Fischer said better UV protections along with the ability of coatings to withstand hard road environments – which can inevitably scratch or mar coatings – are a major area of focus. “We focus on ever-improving our clear coats to achieve these objectives,” he said.

In addition to quality and reliability, McKeon found that the automotive coatings market is no different than so many other global markets - sustainability is one of the key trends driving demand.

“Eco-efficiency is especially important to our customers and is a growing market requirement,” he said. “To meet this market need, innovations are crucial. We develop new solutions that contribute to the sustainability needs of our customers and society (e.g., integrated process, waterborne coatings technology). We are therefore continuously analyzing our complete product portfolio from the viewpoint of the sustainability needs of our customers, incorporating the results into our business strategies and integrating sustainability criteria into our R&D innovation processes.”

Research & development

According to Anne Shim, Technical and Quality director, BASF Coatings NA, in order to ensure the highest quality products for its customers, BASF continuously develops new products and processes.

“Sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions are of great importance,” she said. “Therefore, we are increasing the share of R&D investment for sustainable solutions. All of our R&D activities are not only limited to coatings, we also focus on solutions beyond paint and develop products and services to meet our customer’s needs. Digitalization is another key focus area. We are convinced that digitalization will enable us to identify new business models and to optimize costs for instance in the area of development, production, and logistics.

Digitalization will clearly change almost all areas of our value chain within the next years.”

Fischer said that some new materials and construction scenarios are sensitive to the high temperatures of a typical automotive paint oven. As a result, new, lower temperature curing formulations are being developed to facilitate some light weight vehicle construction options.

“Reducing the OEM environmental footprint and overall cost to finish vehicles remains a primary driver for innovation. Developments that allow wet-on-wet application, elimination of layers and reduction of energy continues to be a primary focus for future coating system design.”

Today’s coatings are not perfect, he added. Improvements in stone chip resistance, appearance, scratch and mar resistance as well as resistance to chemical attack such acid rain, bug proteins, road grime and so forth can reduce warrantee claims and add value through improved consumer satisfaction and higher residual values.

“Consumers continue to want to be delighted with new and fresh design, and this includes the colors which are offered,” he said. “Development of new color space, as well as programs to offer color in new and interesting ways continues to be a development focus.” 

More Than Just Paint: A Q&A with Carsten Bernau, Mankiewicz Coatings’ Sales Director, Automotive

Carsten Bernau studied business economics in Berlin and Vienna, specializing in foreign trade. After graduation, he worked as a sales representative for a chemical company for ten years and then started working at Mankiewicz, first in the general industry, later in the automotive sector. He has been the director of the automotive department for more than 20 years and is a member of the management board.

When did Mankiewicz enter the automotive market and what has changed since then?

We have been busy in the automotive sector for over 25 years now. In the beginning the focus was on the interior. At the time, functionality was more important than design issues. Accordingly, the paint was comparatively “hard” and applied in high film thicknesses up to 100 µm. This only changed in the middle of the 1990s with the development of new, much more elastic binding agents for appealing textures and haptics. The film thickness was reduced: in the car interior, it is only 20 to 30 µm nowadays. At that time, color design and haptics were first combined. The scope of design for the car interior became more varied – as did the demands of the customers. Today, cars are not merely sold for their technical performance; an aesthetic interior is essential, too. Appealing surfaces are mostly achieved with customized paint systems. Today´s paint systems are much more resistant to mechanical and chemical influences.

What does the Mankiewicz product portfolio comprise?

We mainly produce two-component polyurethane-based paints: the ALEXIT paint systems. In the automotive interior, we use so-called décor haptic paints to enhance plastic surfaces optically and haptically and to align them with other materials like leather of fabric. Plastic parts are coated with metallic paints to substitute metal components and surfaces. We also offer individual concepts like laser-etchible paint systems for a day-night design in the automotive interior. The symbols on the keys are etched out with a laser beam, thus becoming visible later. In the exterior, we use polyurethane-based or UV-curing high-gloss paints in color shade piano black. UV-curing systems offer very good mechanical and chemical resistance values, thus reducing slight scratches on the high-gloss surfaces to a minimum. We also offer mat exterior décor paint systems which improve the scratch and light resistance values. Our NEXTEL paint systems offer suede-like, non-glare surfaces to replace textiles. Easy-to-clean paints round off the portfolio.

What are the demands on the automotive interior and exterior fittings?

Interior fittings have to be resistant to heat and humidity in order to avoid hydrolysis damage. The paints have to be resistant to hand lotions, mechanical influences and ageing. In contrast, exterior paint systems have to be resistant to light as well as climatic and mechanical influences like stone-chipping. They have to survive automated carwash systems, bird droppings and insect removers without damage.

Is it correct that your focus will be more on the exterior sector in future?

That’s correct. We are very experienced in the coating of plastics. It was obvious for us to make use of this know-how in the exterior sector as well. The growth potential for us is huge. We have gained lots of experience in the coating of plastic components like radiator grills, license plate brackets and bumper parts.

What are your key markets?

The domestic market – Europe – is still our major target. Quality enhancement by means of paint is very well accepted and we know the demands very well. 60 percent of the automotive business is done in this market. The Chinese market with its huge demand and unrealized potential is another important target for the Mankiewicz group. The US market is, too. For a long time the domestic and Japanese car manufacturers were one step ahead in this market, but nowadays the Europeans are gaining more and more ground. Mankiewicz is already present in the USA and we will certainly expand the market presence of the Mankiewicz group.

How big is your automotive team?

Apart from the production department, approximately 200 employees work in the automotive sales, laboratory and applications engineering departments – the automotive department is one of the company´s biggest sectors.

What do you think are the future paint trends in the automotive market?

At the moment mat paints with smooth or textured surfaces and appealing haptics are in vogue. This is contrasted by the trend to use metallic color shades and metallic paints in the car interior – as a special visual feature. Paint is increasingly used as a replacement for galvanized surfaces. Playing with colors and textures sometimes leads to unusual designs. For example, we now paint parts in bright colors which traditionally used to be dark. Naturally, these surfaces are much more prone to contamination, which makes the development of easy-to-clean surfaces very interesting. They look like regular paint surfaces, but are less prone to soiling and much easier to clean. In future, the issue of “black panel systems” will gain in importance, too: the touch screens in the cars will have to blend in harmoniously with the surroundings. Therefore, the surfaces around the display will also be designed as a black panel. Doubtless, autonomous driving is a general future trend of the automotive industry. In spite or, perhaps, because of that the car interior design will remain very important.