Bryant: 2020 was a tumultuous year for everyone because of the pandemic. The coatings market saw early impacts from China during the first quarter followed by a dramatic drop in the second quarter as several of our end markets began to feel the effects of the pandemic. At the lowest point, our Refinish business dropped to around 50% in Q2, which aligned with the dramatic reduction in time that people were spending in vehicles. We were pleased to see stronger than anticipated recovery beginning in the summer that carried through the lockdowns in mid-November. Outside of the Transportation Coatings segment, the impact to the Performance Coatings segment was less severe with almost complete recovery by the end of Q4.
CW: What actions did your company take to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic on the coatings market?
Bryant: At the onset of the pandemic, Axalta took swift action to ensure the health and safety of our employees while maintaining operations and support for our customers. We streamlined our procedures and rapidly embraced remote work for non-operations team members. We took steps to promote social distancing, instituted robust on-site hygiene practices, equipped plant personnel with critical personal protective equipment (PPE), performed daily health screenings, and rolled out enhanced sanitation and disinfecting practices at our sites.
Axalta supported our communities during this challenging time. Several of the manufacturing lines at our sites around the world were converted to produce thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer to be used at our facilities and donated to local first responders and hospitals. We also donated much-needed PPE to healthcare workers in our communities. We have been active in supporting our customers throughout the pandemic.
CW: What areas of the coatings market represent the most growth opportunities for your company?
Bryant: We are particularly optimistic about the growth potential in our Industrial markets. Innovations like our Voltatex 4224 impregnating resin product – which won a Gold Edison Award last year – help our customers increase electric motor efficiency and reduce the size and weight of electronic devices. With our track record of winning products, and with future innovations coming in this space, we’ll continue to grow our business in mobility technology solutions and electronics, as well as with thermal management-related coatings. We also continue to be a leader in the Powder and Wood coatings segments and we’re enthusiastic about opportunities in both businesses...we continue to gain market share globally. Our strategy of innovation-led growth is helping us to expand with existing customers and create exciting opportunities in new markets and geographies.
In Transportation, we will continue to introduce exciting technologies and new products that support our customers’ growth globally. Specifically, in China, we see long-term growth opportunities in both Light Vehicle and Commercial Vehicle.
CW: In what areas are you focusing your R&D efforts?
Bryant: Innovation is embedded in everything we do at Axalta. We continuously challenge ourselves to think differently – not just when it comes to R&D – but in how we address everyday problems, design processes, and apply forward-thinking to what’s coming next in our industry. Axalta invests about four percent of sales into R&D and technology services, which is among the highest levels in our industry peer group. Our R&D efforts continue to focus on providing solutions for customers that improve productivity, deliver superior performance, and support environmental goals. Some examples over the past year include:
• The launch of our advanced Color Proofing, the latest enhancement to our proprietary color retrieval software, ColorNet, which allows collision customers to view paint colors and digitally rotate them on 3D vehicle renderings.
• We expanded our Imron Industrial portfolio in North America with the introduction of a polyurethane wood coatings line.
CW: What are your company’s long-term plans?
Bryant: We’re excited about the future and plan to be a leader in the global coatings industry for a long time. We are, and will continue to be, focused on our four strategic imperatives of people, innovation, growth, and performance.
Our long-term view is one of sustained growth, and we’ll achieve it through our continued focus on customers, our commitment to operational excellence, embracing an innovation mindset, investing in our high-performing culture, and delivering value to our shareholders.