The European market itself is only showing moderate growth. But Europe still remains an important source of innovation in the global automobile sector.
In automobile coatings there is the usual emphasis on the need to develop new colors and special effects. But these have to meet the needs of an expanding population of car buyers who are becoming even more individualistic in their tastes.
Also car manufacturers are wanting the coatings makers to introduce technologies and efficiencies which help reduce their production costs. This includes creating systems for collecting and analyzing data from their paint shops which help to raise productivity.
At the same time the manufacturers are looking for technological initiatives covering a much broader range of needs in coatings – such as greater functionality, reduced emissions, more regulatory compliance, reduced energy consumption and lower maintenance costs. In addition there are the requirements of new types of vehicles and their components, like electric vehicles and their hybrids and semi and fully autonomous cars.
These trends were highlighted recently by PPG Industries during a press visit to its main European technical center for decorative OEM coating at Ingersheim, near Stuttgart, in one of Germany’s large car manufacturing clusters in the southwest of the country.
PPG claims to be the world leader in the global OEM coatings market, ahead of the other two main players, BASF and Axalta Coatings Systems. It has over 50 car manufacturing customers, a high proportion of them active in the European market.
By 2025 the global automotive industry would be producing 106.5 million vehicles annually, partly as a result of 70 percent growth in Asia, By 2019 the numbers of new vehicle launches will reach 137, 20 percent higher than in 2015, William Brunat, PPG‘s technical director for Europe, told journalists citing figures from the consultancy IHS Markit.
These rising number of launches would bring “increased complexity and market pressure on automakers and on their supplies,” he warned.
PPG, which reckons that it already has more technology platforms for its OEM coatings than its competitors, is expanding into new areas like autonomous cars, digitalization and battery coatings.
It considers that there are five big innovation drivers in OEM coatings: safety and security, like light-weighting and autonomous systems; environment, covering emissions and toxic chemicals; asset protection, such as corrosion and scratch resistance; energy and costs; and comfort and leisure, covering color and functionality.
“Our number one priority is the environment to make sure that what we supply is clean and sustainable,” said Brunat. “After that the priority is helping to reduce costs and make savings.”
The new technological directions the company is taking are shown by the products it has recently commercialized, those under development and those which are subject to feasibility studies.
Among the recently launched products have been functionality coatings such as one which dampens sounds inside vehicles to provide quieter driving and the world’s first scratch-resistant clearcoat developed with Mercedes.
PPG is also helping to extend the digitalization of OEM paint shops by introducing a computer tablet with software, called Performa, which paint shop staff will use to collect and analyze data.
“The analysis will optimize the paint shop’s output in terms of energy consumption, materials savings and quality,” said Brunat.
Those coatings under development include electric vehicle battery coatings which use graphene to enhance conductivity, coatings with Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) properties which determine the direction of autonomous vehicles, tire barrier coatings and easy-to-clean (E2C) automotive coatings.
Among the new technologies on which PPG is conducting feasibility studies are intelligent surfaces, 3D additive manufacturing, thermally conductive inks and polyurea chemistry.
In the development of colors, PPG has continued to exploit its nanotech expertise in the shaping and sizing of particles which create different strengths and grades of color.
“We are continually looking to improve the processing of pigments, particularly in the ways they are ground,” explained Reine Mueller-Koerber, PPG’s color styling technical manager in Europe.
“We are aiming for cleaner colors and pigments which behave like dyes.”
In its current prediction of color trends, PPG believes that there will be greater variety of preferences. There will be a continued adherence to traditional colors based on the appearance of natural materials such as wood, marble and stone.
“White continues to be popular but it is becoming a colder, more technical white,” said Daniele Nicoletti, another PPG specialist. “With some groups of car owners there is a growing preference for clearer, brighter colors.”
PPG’s Andaro dispersions system, using nano scale particles, helps PPG provide coatings with a greater concentration of pigment and hence color intensity.
“Andaro gives an extra 20-30 percent of brightness, 50 percent more color and extra depth,” said Mueller-Koerber. “We are seeing some unexpected vivid colors become popular like different shades of yellow. A big liking for orange has been surprising. Also red is continuing to rise in popularity.”
In Europe the choice of colors by purchasers is depending on the size and shape of the car, with white continuing to the most preferred in most categories. The exceptions are gray in luxury autos and black in midsized ones, according to PPG Global Color Trends 2016.
Buyers of SUVs seem to like color the most with 28 percent selecting chromatic colors. In the midsize category the choice of chromatic colors rose from 18 percent to 22 percent last year. With compact cars 19 percent preferred blue or red.
“We have been seeing changes in what is influencing people’s color preferences with cars,” explained Mueller-Koerber. “Fashion in clothes is no longer a leading force. Consumer electronics and furniture are having more of an impact. But these don’t dictate long term trends. With cars, people want attractive colors but their choice is guided by quality issues as well.”
The next step could be the personalization of car colors for a growing proportion of automobile purchasers. This will be made possible by the digitalization of paint shops. It will be yet another big innovation challenge for auto coatings producers and their suppliers.