AkzoNobel reported that, in 2018, it saw different growth rates around the globe. “While regions such as Asia and Europe have experienced a slow progression – predominantly due to lower vehicle demand/production in these regions – other regions, such as North America, have seen a faster growth,” Peter Tomlinson, director of AkzoNobel’s Automotive and Specialty Coatings business. “Not surprisingly, these developments are tied to the actual vehicle output as reported in every region, as ultimately, every car that is manufactured requires the use of coatings in the process (related to both metal body and hang-on plastic parts).”
“The global automotive OEM coatings market is primarily driven by vehicle builds which ended 2018 about one percent below 2017 levels,” said Steven R. Markevich, Axalta EVP and president, Transportation Coatings and Greater China. “Generally, this result was below expectations particularly in China where builds were forecasted to grow more than one percent but ended down almost four percent for a net result five percent below expectations. Volatility also characterized 2018 as events such as the new WLTP (Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Testing Protocol) disrupted normal production cycles in Europe while adverse weather impacted production at some facilities in North America.”
“Generally the market was flat based on overall reduced auto builds, however, there were some pockets of strength like South America and Russia,” said Rebecca Liebert, SVP PPG Automotive OEM Coatings. “Asia (China and India), South America, Eastern Europe, and Russia offer excellent opportunities for growth. Successful coatings providers understand and master the unique needs of customers in each of these regions.”
The general consensus among the coating companies that Coatings World interviewed for this article is that North America, Europe and to a lesser degree, Asia, all represent healthy markets for automotive OEM coatings.
“Currently, the North American market presents the better landscape for growth, although both Europe and Asia will eventually re-bounce into a positive growth cycle as soon as the regional demand is there,” said Tomlinson. “Also, different dynamics can be seen within each region; for instance, a shift towards lesser-cost countries in Asia (e.g., Southeast Asia) from places where production costs have increased lately (e.g., Japan, Korea, etc.). We continuously identify opportunities to drive the Automotive Coatings industry forward, and so we focus on providing additional tools and high-quality technical service to our customers to help them grow their business.”
“The Asia Pacific region, specifically China and India, continue to represent the greatest prospects for growth in the coming years,” said Markevich. “From 2018 to 2023, these two markets are expected to generate almost 70 percent of global build growth.
“Both countries are currently well below maturity in terms of cars per 1,000 population,” he continued. ”Despite recent slowing, China’s real GDP growth rate is more than twice the global average which will continue to fuel their growing middle class.
Moreover, India’s real GDP growth is expected to be even slightly higher than China’s. What does this mean to the industry? As income rates grow, especially in second- and third-tier cities, car ownership rates are expected to climb supporting a robust automotive industry for years to come.”
Color Trends and Styles
AkzoNobel is very active in the segments of hang-on plastic parts, both for the exterior and interior of the vehicles. “Overall, we see more attention to detail and to the overall atmosphere that can be created with specific materials and finishes,” said Tomlinson. “For coatings in the automotive interior market, we see a trend towards more subtle, elegant colors and material combinations with unexpected, almost ‘hidden’ effects – something you only see at a second glance. Top examples include: 1) Neutrals with a hint of color or fine effect pigment, like our AkzoNobel Color of the Year, “Luminous Honey;” 2) Smooth anodized finishes for brighter shades; and 3) Monotone color schemes, but with rich varieties of textures and tactile effects, like soft feel, silky touch and ceramics.
“Light or day/night effects are also growing in importance,” he continued. “Examples would be sparkles that can only become visible when exposed to a light source, or hidden-until-lit patterns, both for decorative or functional aspects. In the automotive exterior market, we see more accent and contrast colors, where design lines displayed in the interior of the vehicle are now also applied on the outside.”
“One trend that has not changed is the popularity of white,” stated Markevich. “Axalta’s 66th Global Color Popularity Report shows white is the world’s most popular color for passenger vehicles for the eighth consecutive year. In China, more than 60 percent of vehicles sold are white. At a remarkable 38 percent globally, white far outpaces black (18 percent) and a third-place tie for silver and gray (12 percent).”
Mass customization is a trend of which Axalta is taking note. “Black roofs, striping and two-tones are by no means new to the industry, but they are becoming more common as automakers offer more ways for buyers to customize cars right from the factory,” noted Markevich. “Axalta highlighted this trend with our 2018 Automotive Color of the Year: Sahara. It’s a golden bronze that speaks to an increase in warmer tones and could serve as the primary color for customized options.”
“BASF’s Coatings division has an excellent understanding of color trends and concepts based on extensive and in-depth analysis of global trends and cultural shifts influencing automotive colors,” said James Embree, head of Marketing & Product Management, OEM Coatings, for BASF in North America. “The interaction of color, materials, and finish (CMF) components continues to influence automotive design as new substrates and unique finishes with matte or textured appearances offer more opportunity for innovation and customization.”
Color, texture and other design characteristics continue to gain importance as OEMs and consumers explore new mobility platforms such as autonomous, connected, electric and shared vehicles.
“From a marketing perspective, we’re seeing a shift toward a more holistic design aesthetic for vehicle interiors and exteriors, including sophisticated wheel coatings,” said Liebert. “To address this trend, PPG’s annual automotive color forecast – widely used by global OEM color and materials designers – now incorporates color collections for virtually all visible interior and exterior automotive surfaces, including body panels, doors, consoles, instrument panels and seating accents. Shared vehicles will place even greater importance on interior colors and textures and offer an opportunity for OEMs to show differentiation and unique aesthetics.”
PPG also continues to work closely with OEMs to explore new opportunities to achieve premium appearance using their existing equipment and processes. “For example, we have helped customers enhance appearance by taking a bottom-up approach to the finishing process, where each coating layer contributes to the color vibrancy and other appearance characteristics,” said Liebert. “One OEM implemented this approach by introducing a new premium primer within its compact ‘3-wet’ finishing process. As a result, on several colors they achieved appearance characteristics superior to the more expensive conventional (non-compact) process.”
Automotive coatings are used in both the interior and exterior of the vehicle. As cars get more and more sophisticated, coatings need to keep up with the technology.
“Particularly in the interior of the vehicles, we see more and more surfaces such as touch screens, capacitive sensors and similar technologies,” said Tomlinson. “This correlates with the trend of having an ever-increasing presence of new kind of Human Interface with the different systems. This trend has triggered an increased demand of functional coatings that support those developments, such as high scratch and mar resistance, easy to clean, anti-fingerprint, anti-glare, and any kind of solution that eases these haptic interactions.”
“I think a lot of the expectations hold up over time: better quality, more efficiency and environmental awareness,” said Markevich. “We have talked before about how some new trends may affect performance demands. For instance, if we see increased ride-sharing causing vehicles to rack up thousands of miles in a shorter time frame, will the need for long-term performance mean as much.
“Similarly, the path to autonomy needs to consider coatings, both for detectability and transmission. If sensors enabling driverless vehicles are going to live behind bumpers, the coatings need to enable radio waves passing back and forth.”
“Customers consistently strive for better appearance and improved durability, and recently, placing increased emphasis on the functional performance of coatings,” said Embree. “So our challenge is to achieve the aesthetic needs associated with color, while also incorporating new functionality into our coatings.”
According to Liebert, PPG’s customers are intensely focused on achieving higher efficiency and increased throughput – both of which depend on world-class products and best operating practices in the paint shop.
“Reducing the environmental footprint of the manufacturing process is also an area of focus,” she said. “PPG is helping customers achieve these goals at every step of the coating process, including pretreatment and substrate protection. For example, our R&D and services organizations have partnered with customers to enable the increased use of lightweight materials without impacting protection, durability or appearance. We have been a market leader in compact process and low-cure technologies that further reduce manufacturing costs. We also developed a ‘secure launch’ protocol for new colors and other products that ensure the chemistries, equipment and application processes are aligned with the realities of each customer facility, thus eliminating batch adjustments and other potentially costly issues on the production line.”
Switch to Waterborne
Waterborne coatings represent a technology that has been in the market for many years already, particularly in mature markets where it first landed. “What we observe nowadays 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,” said Tomlinson.
“Waterborne coatings can replace solvent-borne coatings, but the challenge is that solvent-borne 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. But our diverse portfolio of waterborne AkzoNobel products gives manufacturers a choice when selecting products that meet functional needs while considering environmental performance. We are 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.”
Axalta is focused on working with customers on the coatings solution that best suits their needs. “So, despite volume pressures from weaker builds, the market continues to see some volume gains from the shift to more environmentally friendly waterborne technologies as well as some revenue growth from net price gains necessitated by rising input costs,” said Markevich.
“Many years of development went into creating waterborne coatings requiring all new resins, treated aluminum, and new rheology agents, just to name a few,” said Embree. “When the move to waterborne started, we had to develop colors in both waterborne and solvent-borne. However, as waterborne grew, this requirement has diminished over the years. Waterborne coatings, especially the Integrated Process versions, take longer to perform quality assurance spray-outs, which has operational implications as well.”
Waterborne technology is a key area of competitive differentiation for PPG. “We’ve long been a leader in waterborne product development, especially with compact-process coatings such as our award-winning Premium B1: B2 Compact Paint System, which reduces the number of steps necessary to paint a vehicle by eliminating the primer layer and placing those properties into the B1 layer,” said Liebert.
Electric and Self-Driving Vehicles Lead
Tomlinson identified a number of trends and technologies. These include sustainable paint systems, self-healing/high scratch resistance coatings, low-VOC coating systems, functional coatings and surfaces, battery coatings driven by the electrification trend. Radar-transparent and -visible coatings driven by self-driving trends.
“The industry is focused on issues that fall under the C.A.S.E. umbrella: Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electrified,” said Markevich. “I am comfortable in saying that coatings will continue to play a key role irrespective of where the market goes. We have talked about coatings for autonomous vehicle connections, and we will be looking at new coatings for interiors as these driverless vehicles become more cabin-centric. Ride-sharing brings new color decision makers to the forefront, while exterior colors can be important for branding. Finally, electrification provides new opportunities and challenges in terms of surface areas to coat.”
BASF is actively involved in the development of technologies to enable future mobility. “This would encompass lidar detectable, radar non-interfering and easy to clean coatings,” said Embree. “Several sustainability trends continue to drive market innovation including low-temperature cure as well as the adoption of Integrated Process to compress the paint shop footprint, reduce energy usage and lower VOCs.”
PPG is focused on the promise of low-cure coatings, which can lead to significant energy and capital savings for vehicle manufacturers, as well as highly specialized coating solutions for emerging mobility platforms. “These include next-generation exterior finishes that help ensure enhanced reflectivity to LiDAR and radar systems; a wide range of functional coatings for vehicle interiors; and high-performance binders for lithium-ion battery packs that will power tomorrow’s battery-electric and hybrid vehicles,” said Liebert. “Our R&D team also is intensely focused on helping OEMs achieve increasingly aggressive appearance targets. We have launched an internal project known as “Allure: The Science of Appearance” which focuses on all of the variables and layers that contribute to appearance. Improved appearance is a global trend – every OEM is looking to differentiate their premium models, and it is a priority across our Automotive OEM Coatings organization.”
The increased use of autonomous, connected, shared and electric vehicles are one area of interested for auto coatings markers.
According to PPG’s Liebert, there are several market drivers, the foremost being safety, convenience and changing industry and societal needs. “Autonomous driving systems and connected vehicles can significantly improve driving safety, reduce traffic congestion and enhance vehicle utility and personal productivity. Shared mobility offers the potential for tremendous convenience and financial savings for consumers. The long-term aim of battery (BEV) and hybrid (HEV) electric vehicles is to reduce the cost and net emission impact of vehicle ownership. Each of these mobility platforms also reflects fundamental, widespread changes in the way consumers view the role of transportation in their lives. We are in the midst of a mobility revolution, where your vehicle might serve as a moving “hotel,” a meeting place or a fully connected office on any given day. This is an exciting opportunity for PPG.”
These vehicles require special coatings both inside and outside the vehicle. Mobility platforms rely on hundreds, if not thousands, of enabling technologies – with advanced coatings being particularly pervasive and important. “At PPG, we organize these solutions into three broad categories: ‘Outside’ the vehicle, such as the exterior finish and related coatings; ‘inside’ coatings that largely address passenger comfort, convenience and utility; and coatings that are ‘within’ the vehicle’s powertrain and electronics infrastructure,” said Liebert.
In the case of autonomous driving systems, the transfer of information between vehicles and their operating environments relies on LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and radar systems. According to Liebert, a vehicle’s exterior finish will need to provide adequate reflectivity to ensure visibility to these systems. “
The same is true of traffic systems, bridge abutments and other elements of the transportation infrastructure,” said Liebert. “In a recent test, a conventionally applied black color reflected just 6 percent of a LiDAR system’s near-infrared signal as compared to a white color. PPG’s solution leverages a reflective underlayer so the signal ‘bounces off’ the layer and is returned to the sensor in the oncoming car or other objects, thus enhancing the detection of dark-colors.”
PPG is also developing coatings that enable vehicle designers to position radar and LiDAR equipment behind the bumper for aesthetic and aerodynamic reasons, without affecting their performance. Specialized coatings are also needed to enhance the radar reflectivity of some plastic and composite substrates.
“Another ‘outside’ opportunity will be keeping externally mounted vehicle sensors clear of dirt and other potential obstructions,” Liebert noted. “Our chemists have developed easy-clean composite coatings that help solve this problem.”
On the “inside,” there are many opportunities for next-generation coatings to bring cleanliness, convenience and utility to the passenger compartment, particularly in vehicles that have interactive displays as well as those that will be shared by multiple users. “These solutions include transparent functional coatings; easy-to-clean, anti-smudge, anti-fingerprint and anti-glare coatings; anti-microbial coatings; and soft-touch paints, among others,” said Liebert. “Coatings that will serve ‘within’ a modern mobility platform include specialty electrical and functional solutions. For example, a passenger car equipped with an internal combustion engine redirects some of the engine’s waste heat to warm the passenger compartment and defrost the windshield, which is not an option in a BEV. Therefore, we expect OEMs to turn to thermally conductive coatings to perform these functions.
Conductive coatings and inks also will be used in the antennas needed by the vehicle’s infotainment system and to enable vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. Additionally, as these vehicles will feature significantly greater electronics content, OEMs will need a variety of coatings and specialty materials to serve as electromagnetic shields.”
Automotive OEMs are looking for coatings that will enhance vehicle performance and reliability while reducing the overall cost of ownership. “A great example is the coatings used in the lithium-ion battery packs that power most electric vehicles,” said Liebert.
“Cost – and more specifically, the cost per kilowatt hour provided by the vehicle’s battery pack – is a leading barrier to widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Modern coatings can play an important part in reducing these costs and accelerating the shift to BEVs.”
Each cell within a lithium-ion battery contains two electrodes – anode and cathode – and a separator. On the cathode side, there is an aluminum foil coated with a binder that contains lithium active and conductive carbon.
The stringent processing and application requirements of many existing battery binders is a contributor to the cost of a BEV battery pack. PPG has developed a binder that greatly simplifies processing requirements and is compatible with existing application equipment while providing performance that is equal to or better than existing binders. Additionally, its new binder avoids the use of NMP (N-Methylpyrrolidone), a toxic solvent that is already restricted in Europe and other regions.
“We are at the defining moment of modern mobility, with every industry participant – including coatings providers such as PPG – contributing to what ultimately will be a fully-integrated transportation system that will transform the industry,” concluded Liebert. The possibilities are fascinating, with each requiring new layers of imagination and innovation.”