Car colours have a huge impact on car sales. Not surprisingly, choosing the right paint for the different models is important to car manufacturers, who must make those selections two to three years in advance. Paint manufactures employ ‘colour stylists’ who produce colour trend forecasts based on recent buying behaviour across multiple consumer sectors. Pigment manufacturers, in turn, focus their development efforts on meeting the colour expectations identified by the trend forecasts. Recently, this approach has led to the introduction of a wider range of options, including more intense colours, special effect pigments and metallic pigments for a liquid metal look.
Colour popularity is determined by analysis of vehicle build numbers, colour use in other markets, such as cosmetics, consumer electronics and household goods, and interviews with car buyers, and is developed for different model types across many regions of the world. ‘There is so much emotion and psychology attached to colour, which makes it an ideal expression of one’s image to the outside world, and it works so remarkably well with car body shapes. You can truly see innovation in action,’ says Paul Czornij, technical manager for the BASF Colour Excellence group.
The most recent forecasts reveal a movement towards the use of new and brighter colours, though the four non-chroma core colours – white, black, silver and grey – continue to increase their dominance across all regions, with white the most popular in North America, Europe and Asia.
In North America, the core colours account for around 75% of car sales, with black in second place, largely on luxury vehicles. Red is the most colourful preference in all vehicle segments, while various blue shades and brown/beige colours are used more on larger vehicles, according to Nancy Lockhart, colour marketing adviser with Axalta Coating Systems (previously DuPont Performance Coatings). ‘We do, however, see the interiors of vehicles getting more colourful, which is an indicator that bright shades of red, blue, orange and yellow, and warm beige/gold and brown tones, along with soft muted colours and “eco-like” shades, will emerge,’ she adds. Special effect technologies, which give colours a three-dimensional quality, and matte finishes, offer a wider range of options as well, according to Czornij.
In Europe, there is an ongoing trend towards white/white pearl (24%) but black, including effect blacks with coarse metallic and tinted hues, comes in a close second at 23%, according to Elke Dirks, a colour designer with Axalta Coating Systems. She also finds that while silver and grey shades are declining, solid-metallic variations of concrete-anthracite hues with glamorous effect pigments remain strong. The growing interest in blue, she adds, signals a shift towards more colourful preferences, particularly for compact vehicles, and brown/beige has overtaken red for the first time. ‘The mega trend in Europe for ecological considerations has also led to an increase in demand for plain, light, natural and sophisticated colour concepts,’ she says. Czornij agrees, commenting that people have responded to the economic crisis and changes in energy policy in Europe by adopting a balance of creative but calmer, neutral colours.
In Asia Pacific countries, BASF’s colour trend forecast reflects the region’s strong sense of its growing presence on the global stage – with themes of pride in culture and identity, independent from trends in other countries, according to Czornij. ‘While neutral colours such as black, silver, grey and white will continue to dominate this market, original designs and personal style are becoming more important to buyers, which will lead to a gradual emergence of sophisticated intermediate colours, such as olive-greens and bluish greys,’ he says.
Pearl whites are dominant in Japan and Korea, but silver is preferred in India, and black, often jet black or black with sparkling effects, is the most popular colour in China, according to Kumiko Ohmura, colour marketing manager with Axalta Coating Systems. The use of glass flake pigments to add interest and sparkle to whites and greys is a growing trend. For chromatic colours, red remains the most popular in Asia, followed by blue, with demand growing for brighter, cleaner, more intense colours. ‘Red in particular has been emerging in recent years as more women gain buying power in this region,’ observes Jane E. Harrington, manager of colour styling for PPG Industries. ‘Pastel tones, meanwhile, and particularly pink tints, are a growing trend in Korea on specific models,’ she adds.
Despite the differences in regions, there is generally an increase in demand for more depth and intensity of colours – brighter, cleaner reds, oranges and blues, for example, according to Harrington. Greater use of sparkle both in dark and lighter colours – where it gives a soft effect – is also increasing. ‘We see that pigment manufacturers are responding with inorganic and organic pigments with long-term durability, improved hiding power, a larger colour gamut, and more intensity, as well as effect pigments that offer increasing functionality,’ she says.
‘At Sun Chemical Performance Pigments, we recognise that pigment innovation drives colour trends and colour trends drive pigment innovation,’ asserts marketing manager for coatings Michael T. Venturini. ‘As new technologies are brought to market, designers find ways to use them to create new colours, thereby starting new trends. Innovation and trends are inter-related.’
High performance pigments
The major types of high-performance pigments used in car coatings include organic perylenes, quinacridones, indanthrones and pthalocyanines, owing to their durability, transparency, and compatibility with effect pigments. Most metallic pigments are based on aluminum flakes because they offer brightness, opacity, exceptional durability and value, according to Venturini. ‘Other metals have been investigated in the past – stainless steel, tin, alloys – but they add too much weight and often are too costly to be practical,’ notes Hai H. Lin, chief technology officer of effect pigment producer Silberline. Glass and mica flakes are becoming more popular as well. In fact, designers are increasingly using texture, glittery and pearlescent effects to differentiate traditional colours like black and white.
BASF focuses on six colour groupings and corresponding pigment technologies: organic greens, yellows and browns plus inorganic bismuth vanadate (Sicopal Yellow) pigments; a range of blues, including a reddish blue based on copper phthalocyanine technology (Heliogen) and others that incorporate advanced mica effect pigments; reds and oranges that give transparent, bright, intense metallic and mica shades; neutrals, such as its Glacier range, which have added synthetic mica flakes coated with titanium dioxide for a transparent, white pearlescent appearance with a bluish colour on reflection; gold, silver and bronzes; and multi-colours based on organic pigments.
Clariant offers high opacity organic pigments (eg Hostaperm) for use in combination with various inorganic pigments to ‘achieve durable and chromatic colour shades with excellent hiding,’ according to technical manager Thorsten Beckmann. He adds that the company also offers highly transparent organic pigments that complement the various metallic and sparkling effects that today’s colour stylists require.
Two new blue pigments from Sun Chemical – Pigment Violet and Palomar Indanthrone Blue – extend its colour gamut. ‘Both new styling tools allow designers to achieve blue metallic shades/colours with unique undertones and colour travel, thereby updating the blue metallic colour space,’ says Venturini. The company has also developed transparent and metallic reds with excellent lightfastness for use in tri-coat reds that create an intensity of colour not possible with conventional two-stage coatings. Sun Chemical also has a new yellow (Perindo Perylenes) for the metallic brown colour space.
On the effect pigment side, there have been significant developments in surface treatments for the stabilisation of aluminum pigments in aqueous systems. In addition, brighter and smaller aluminum flakes now offer the option of a reduced sparking effect, while smaller glass flakes can be used to achieve higher sparkle with retention of distinctness of image.
Effect pigment manufacturer Silberline is experiencing growth in demand for its super fine and bright (SFB) pigments, which can be used to create a liquid metal look, according to Lin. ‘To achieve such a look is quite challenging; the right base flakes must be used, and excellent control over the pigment particle size and thickness – both through mechanical (milling) and wet chemical methods – is necessary,’ he says. Lin also notes that there is growing demand for effect pigments that provide a chrome-like look, and for interior coatings, there is a growing preference for vacuum-metalised flakes over milled pigments.
While developing these new shades and effects, pigment manufacturers have had to formulate solutions that meet ever stricter limitations on volatile organic compounds (VOCs); are suitable for waterborne coatings; can replace traditional heavy metal pigments; have improved handling properties; and function effectively with advanced application techniques. ‘Overall, new grades of many organic pigment chemistries have been introduced that extend the colour gamut of blues, maroons and yellows,’ Venturini notes. Lin adds that there has been a notable decrease in the time available for modification of effect pigments originally designed for solvent-borne systems so that they can be used in water-based coatings. ‘Furthermore,’ he observes, ‘there is a definite demand for more sophisticated surface chemistry with effect pigments, which requires specialised know how.’
Advances have also been made in pigment technologies that improve the rheology and application properties of the coatings. New pigment dispersants are of particular note. Using controlled free radical polymerisation, BASF has developed a dispersing agent designed to produce very black jet blacks in carbon black coatings through stabilisation of the carbon black and organic pigments that are difficult to disperse in water. Clariant’s ‘easily dispersible’ surface-modified organic pigments for solvent-borne coatings are also receiving attention from the automotive paint market. They allow paint producers to manufacture the same amount of paint in a shorter period of time with simplified production processes, reduced energy and labour costs and a lower carbon footprint, according to Beckmann.
Pigment manufacturers have also been investing in new facilities. The €100m Clariant Innovation Center opened in Frankfurt, Germany, on 31 October 2013 to enable more rapid technology development, and the company also established high-performance pigment development capabilities in China to serve the country’s growing automotive market. Sun Chemical is also adding local production of high-performance pigments in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as opening a dispersion facility in Rio de Janeiro to produce its new line of Aquadisperse WB pigment dispersions for the decorative coatings market. Waterborne dispersions for the automotive area will also be made here as the region expands the use of waterborne coatings.
These trends are not surprising, given the strong growth experienced by the automobile industry, which in turn is driving demand for coatings and the pigments to provide each car with a unique appearance. Transparency Market Research predicts that the global pigments market will be valued at $14.7bn in 2018, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5% from 2013. The paint and coatings sector is estimated to account for 38.5% of the market, driven mainly by growth in the coatings industry and the demand from consumers for special effects and unique shades for automobiles.
Cynthia Challener is a freelance science writer based in Vermont, US