Automotive OEM coatings manufacturers Coatings World interviewed reported modest growth for 2019 and cited a number of factors that could negatively impact the market in 2020 – including global trade relations and the growing impact of the COVID-19 virus.
“We continue to see different growth rates around the world, with overall headwinds in vehicle output globally,” said Patrick Bourguignon, AkzoNobel director for Automotive and Specialty Coatings. “There are several driving forces behind this, including Brexit, stronger emissions regulations, the continuing U.S.-China trade conflict and deferred capital spending.”
However, he said that coatings demand for plastic substrates is still expected to grow, driven by technology and design trends in the industry which sees plastics replace metallic components in the manufacturing process.
“Looking further into the future, we expect the market to continue to grow – provided global trade relationships normalize again and that the industry can overcome technical interruptions due to emission regulations, including CO2 emission targets in Europe,” Bourguignon added.
“Last year proved to be a challenging year in the global automotive OEM coatings market with year-over-year builds down about six percent,” said Kevin O’Connor, director of Global Marketing & Product Management at Axalta. “However, the model mix in SUV builds is increasing and continues to be a positive trend in automotive coatings. SUV builds are expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.3 percent from 2019 through 2024.”
The automotive OEM market was generally solid through 2019. “We all saw a slowing of growth in China that carried through the Chinese New Year. The COVID-19 virus situation adds more uncertainty as we enter 2020,” said Sean McKeon, BASF VP, global key account management.
In North America, vehicle builds came close to BASF’s forecasts, except for the unexpected workers’ strike at General Motors plants in the U.S. in the fourth quarter. The OEMs were focused on trucks, SUVs and crossovers, with several OEMs making bold moves to significantly shift away from passenger vehicles like compact cars or hatchbacks.
“So, if you had paint on the bigger vehicles, you had a good volume year,” said McKeon. “South America remained very challenging as inflation and currency put pressure on margins for both the OEMs and suppliers.”
“Overall the OEM coatings market for light vehicles was down by mid-single digits for 2019, with all major regions experiencing production declines versus 2018,” added Rebecca Liebert, executive VP, PPG.
Asia Pacific Continues to Lead
The Asia Pacific region continues to lead the way in terms of growth and market share. Acumen’s research found that Asia-Pacific is the largest region for automotive OEM coatings with more than 50 percent market share in 2018.
Increased automotive sales and production in China, Japan, India, South Korea and Thailand will continue to drive the automotive sector in Asia Pacific.
According to the report, “China was the largest automotive producer and is probably the leading producer due to the country’s economic work. As vehicle manufacturing in Germany, Sweden, Italy, France and the UK increase, Europe will be experiencing steady growth over the next few years. In Asia-Pacific the growth rate/CAGR is expected to increase in the 2018-2025 projection period.”
“Although the overall market faces headwinds across the globe, we still project growth beyond the global average predominantly in China, South East Asian countries and South America,” said Bourguignon. “Our focus is on providing additional tools and high-quality technical service to our customers to help them grow their business and drive the automotive coatings industry forward.”
According to O’Connor, China provides the greatest growth opportunity for the auto OEM industry and Axalta. “Between 2019 and 2024, we anticipate that more than 50 percent of the new vehicle builds will be in China, making it the region of greatest absolute growth,” O’Connor said.
“The market for growth continues to be China, with North America maintaining a high level of production despite finding a plateau,” said McKeon.
According to McKeon, OEMs are now making portfolio decisions in the “rest of Asia,” opting to play where they see a sustainable, profitable future.
According to Liebert, North and South America are showing the most strength and are expected to have the highest levels for volume growth in 2020, whereas other regions will likely continue to show declines.
Automotive OEM coatings manufacturers know their customers expect their products to reflect the latest color and design trends. Much time and effort are invested in recognizing future trends and developing eye-catching color palettes.
AkzoNobel is very active in the segments of hang-on plastic parts, both for the exterior and interior of the vehicles. Overall, the company sees more attention to detail and to the overall atmosphere that can be created with specific materials and finishes.
“In the automotive interior, we continue to see a trend towards more harmonious colors and material combinations, with subtle hues and effects enhancing the finish,” said Bourguignon. “AkzoNobel’s Color of the Year 2020, Tranquil Dawn, is a good example – a soft near-gray shade with just a hint of green. Tranquil Dawn is a versatile finish that brings elegance to your car interior through a variety of finish looks, from a fine metallic to polished high gloss, smooth soft-touch and subtly reflective terra-coat finish.”
As a design team, AkzoNobel collaborates with automotive OEMs in a range of ways, using our ColorSurfaces trend collection as a starting point for new color development to digital tools to help designers create the perfect look for their project.
“Light effects continue to play a key role for a day-night contrast – for example, hidden-until-lit patterns or coatings with hidden sparkles and color effects that only become visible when exposed to a light source,” said Bourguignon. “Overall, there is a growing focus on sustainability, which also influences design choices that go hand in hand with functionality and efficiency. Examples include easy clean or anti-fingerprint coatings.”
As a leading color expert for coatings, paint and wood, Axalta has been driving the future of color trends for more than 150 years using innovative technology, advanced color formulations, and proprietary insights into global and regional color preferences.
“During the past 20 years, global color trends show neutral colors such as white, gray, black and silver to consistently be the most popular in automotive,” said O’Connor. “Results from our 2019 Global Automotive Color Popularity Report, white continued to be the most popular color worldwide, totaling, 38 percent of all car builds. White vehicles dominate in China at 49 percent. While most regions choose white as their top choice, Europe chose gray as its favorite automotive color in 2019, marking the first time white has not earned the top spot in Europe since 2012.
“Color nuances and differences by region showcase how trends differ around the world. Browns and beiges are most popular in Russia (12 percent), India (seven percent) and Japan (five percent),” said O’Connor. “Other regions, such as India, North America and Europe, see continued interest in golden bronze and brown colors. Blue is gaining popularity in Europe and North America, with many of the blue colors recently shifting to the greener side of the spectrum. Axalta’s 2020 Global Automotive Color of the Year is Sea Glass, which is a green-blue shade that has a versatile appeal across all regions and vehicle types. Sea Glass is on trend with the color choices found on vehicles around the globe, especially electric vehicles.”
BASF’s recently released Color Report looked at available information regarding global automotive production and paint application to passenger cars, and once again, white came out on top as the most popular color. That keeps color designers busy unlocking new potential within that space.
“As a designer, I can get really excited about white,” said Paul Czornij, BASF’s design manager in charge of colors and trends. “We look to bring nuanced differences with hue and texture by introducing special flake effects and pigments. These bring a heightened element of sophistication to a normally mundane color. White’s not just white – it’s solid or sparkling or satiny; it’s cool or warm – and most of all, beautiful.”
Each year, BASF creates 65 novel and innovative designs to capture color trends that may be seen on the road three to five model years in the future. Designers look at other industries, like fashion or interior design, to know where colors are going. Those insights are a starting point for the individual development of colors.
BASF expects automakers to ask for more deeply saturated colors – like rich blues – to help them claim their place in the market. Developments in pigments and dispersions are making those new chromatic colors possible. Also, BASF sees the flip-flop color travel in metallic shades to be more eye-catching, playful, and evocative. “A car’s character lines and body style become even more expressive with these colors,” said Czornij.
BASF’s most recent trend predictions aim to visually relate to the new technology focus in the automotive market, and responsibility for the environment. New coatings containing materials from renewable resources while minimizing environmental impact and carbon footprint will help automakers connect with this part of their consumer base. BASF designers also incorporate functionality into the color innovations to offer a broad range of color spaces for future palettes.
PPG is unique in its commitment to color leadership. “Because we coat more surfaces than any other company, and our paint colors are sold in more than 70 countries, developing color trends is a global, cross-cultural effort for us,” said Liebert. “Our color experts conduct intensive research into changing consumer mindsets. This process culminates in the annual PPG Color Shows that are attended by automotive design specialists, engineers and procurement leaders representing virtually every major vehicle OEM.”
The themes represented in PPG’s 2020 automotive color trends palette reflect the rapid changes taking place in three core areas of consumers’ lives: technology, climate and globalization.
“Our research shows that consumers are increasingly selecting colors as a means to make a statement,” noted Liebert. “And OEMs continue to seek innovative color profiles. As a result, we are seeing bolder colors making a comeback. For example, the versatility of automotive blues – from light sky blue to rich indigo – is empowering consumers to make a statement with their vehicle purchases.”
PPG also continues to see more colorful choices in vehicle wheel accents, with wheel designers opting for complementary blue and blue-grey tones. “Designers are making bolder choices for logos, racing stripes and other embellishments, as well,” Liebert said.
Performance and Functionality
Automotive coatings cannot merely look pleasing, they must offer a host of performance options. Primers and topcoats used on the vehicle must offer top-notch durability, corrosion and UV protection.
“The performance of every layer – from pretreatment and e-coat to color and topcoat – is paramount for vehicle OEMs because each layer contributes to appearance and durability,” said Liebert. “But performance also encompasses opportunities to help these customers reduce costs and improve efficiency and sustainability. Our award-winning B1:B2 Compact
Paint System enables customers to reduce the number of steps necessary to paint a vehicle by eliminating the primer layer, therefore removing the need for a dedicated primer booth and all related processing. The B1 layer provides primer, filling, chip resistance and durability protection, while the B2 layer provides color and added durability. Both layers are applied wet-on-wet and do not require a baking or heated drying process in between creating significant energy savings and reducing costs for the OEM.”
Also related to performance are coatings used in the lithium-ion battery packs that will power tomorrow’s electric vehicles. PPG has developed an extensive portfolio of coatings used by OEMs and battery manufacturers for thermal management, dielectric protection, fire protection, corrosion and impact protection, EMI/RFI shielding, sealing and to enhance structural integrity.
“Our customers are increasingly looking for functional coatings that perform and provide solutions in response to the changing way that vehicle interiors are used,” said Bourguignon.
“Generally, we see a trend towards a new kind of human interface with interiors – think of touch screens and capacitive sensors for example - and this requires a coatings solution that offers high scratch and mar resistance, easy-clean, anti-fingerprint, anti-glare and any kind of solution that eases these haptic interactions.”
“The automotive coatings market is continually evolving,” said McKeon. “We have to innovate our design, application, and performance to stay ahead of the curve.”
BASF is moving beyond paint to the entire spectrum of surface solutions.
“We treat various types of surfaces that require specific properties: we color them, we protect them, and we make them functional,” said McKeon. “Functional coatings will be an important enabler as the industry adopts driver assist and autonomous driving technologies.
“In addition, we’re going to continue to see more of a mixed substrate system – more aluminum, carbon fiber, etc.,” McKeon added. “As automakers change their products, coatings will have to adapt.”
The new coatings will need to resist corrosion more than ever while reducing overall waste and cost.
According to McKeon, as vehicles becomes less steel and more of a mixed substrate system, there is a desire to reduce the temperature required to cure the coatings system, since many of the new substrates cannot survive the current cure temperatures.
BASF has developed coating systems with reduced cure requirements that allow the OEMs to utilize one paint system to paint the entire mixed-substrate vehicle.
Water-based Technologies Drive R&D
Increasingly strict environmental regulations related to VOC emissions has created a need for waterborne technologies that offer superior performance characteristics. Auto coatings manufacturers are dedicating serious R&D efforts in formulating cutting-edge water-based coatings.
AkzoNobel offers a diverse portfolio of waterborne products, which gives manufacturers a choice when selecting products that meet functional needs while considering environmental performance.
“We’re constantly working on helping our customers comply with and stay ahead of VOC-related legislations; among the many ways we do this is by using high solids and waterborne paints and coatings,” said Bourguignon. “The challenge is that solventborne coatings are low cost and provide robust application, whereas waterborne coatings typically have a much narrower application window and are sensitive to annual variations in humidity and temperature.
Waterborne coatings represent a technology that has been in the market for many years already, particularly in mature markets. What we see now is a tendency for developing regions (namely Asia, particularly China) to also start enforcing these technologies, as they help comply with legislation requiring lower VOC emissions.”
“The need for waterborne solutions is playing a major role in new product development within our industry and at Axalta,” said O’Connor. “While waterborne formulations are advantageous in terms of reducing VOC emissions, they pose a unique challenge for paint formulators. Higher solids content, higher flop appearance and more chromatic colors require a unique formation approach for waterborne coatings compared to traditional solvent-borne systems.”
BASF has a long, successful history with waterborne coatings, and is constantly adjusting its business to meet customer needs. After seeing increased global market demand, BASF built and opened a new $40-million-dollar manufacturing plant for waterborne basecoat and primer products at its site in Tultitlan, Mexico, outside of Mexico City.
At the ceremony to place the cornerstone at the site, Chris Toomey, BASF senior VP for NA Coatings Solutions, said, “Production in our market, especially in Mexico, is growing, and BASF is well-positioned to take advantage of this growth... Our strategy is being fulfilled today as we continue to invest and grow our capacity.”
At the same time, BASF maintains its ability to provide solvent-borne products.
“Customers are at the center of everything we do. While the market is changing, we are maintaining our full technical portfolio to meet the requirements of all our customers,” said David Cranfill, BASF technical director for OEMs.
“It has actually enhanced our competitive position in markets worldwide as a result of our R&D leadership in this area,” said Liebert. “Our B1:B2 Compact Paint System is just one example of how we help vehicle OEMs leverage new, increasingly sustainable coating technologies, such as waterborne, in conjunction with process breakthroughs that improve plant efficiency and reduce costs.”