Feature Stories

Innovations in Automotive Coatings

Did you ever wonder why today’s vehicle colors look so different than those of 30 years ago? Or, how they can maintain a glossy brand-new sheen? What about the popularity of a vehicle’s color? Or what goes into designing a new color? Axalta knows.


Every day we experience color in so many ways, from our surrounding environment at work and home, to our digital experience in our virtual life and the products we use.


Color gets most personal, however, when buying a vehicle. For many people, color is one of the most important factors when selecting a vehicle, and that’s why an extensive amount of research, time and effort goes into every color produced.


Consumer preferences and social trends have an enormous impact on how the coatings industry continues to innovate and design color palettes that meet the needs of OEM customers and will delight consumers globally. New colors are regularly tested to ensure visual appeal, but are also deeply backed in science, chemistry and technology to keep them looking great for years to come.   


“Axalta is a world leader in color innovation and coatings technology,” said Nancy Lockhart, Global Color Product Manager at Axalta. “With more than 150 years of experience combined with our intellectual property prowess, Axalta continues to be on the leading edge of color trends and technology. Innovation in color and coatings is in our DNA at Axalta. Customers demand the highest-quality and most technologically advanced products from us, which fuels our passion to push the boundaries of color.”


Consumer preference today is more than simply the color on the vehicle: it is also about “movement” for added flair and appearance. By using technology and adding colored pigments and flakes, today’s vehicles shimmer and sparkle with different effects that make the color change from different viewing points.  


“Each color is carefully formulated for beauty, durability and functionality,” commented Lockhart. “When made to fit perfectly, color has the ability to showcase the architecture and image of the vehicle, while also allowing the driver to show off their personality and make a statement.”


The technology behind each color is truly more than meets the eye. There are many factors to consider when new colors are developed, including how the vehicle will be stored, how it will be affected by weather conditions like humidity, sun and other natural factors that affect the durability and beauty of any color.


Lockhart commented, “Every one of our colors is put through physical and application testing to determine how it will look on every inch of a vehicle and how it will stand up in different climates and still maintain its brilliance. Typically, it takes two to four years to fully develop a color due to the rigorous design and engineering processes taken to deliver the final product to market, which is part of the reason why each new color Axalta introduces is significant.”


Science and technology will continue to significantly influence the development of colors in the future. Consumers are increasingly interested in customized finishes that accentuate the vehicle and the owner’s personality. As colors become more customized and the demand for eco-friendly products increases, the science to create these colors becomes even more complex and sophisticated.


Even as the coatings industry works hard to stay on top of trends and deliver new colors to automotive customers, end-user consumers have been consistent with their choices for several decades. Similar color preferences – white, gray, black and silver – have been dominant worldwide over the last 20 years. According to Axalta’s 2019 Global Automotive Color Popularity Report, neutral colors currently dominate the market at 80% of all vehicle colors worldwide. Among these neutral tones, white ranks first at 38%. Silver dropped to fourth place last year and recorded a 10-year low at 10% of the overall market. Despite these changes, gray ranked No. 1 in Europe.


However, Axalta’s research is starting to indicate noticeable differences in color trends that are occurring across different regions of the world. 


Said Lockhart, “We are starting to see new trends indicating that vehicle color popularity is no longer being influenced by other vehicles we see driving on the roads every day. Other trend factors and industries including fashion, interior design, product design, textiles and even digital renderings are impacting how consumers view their cars. With these new consumer views on color preferences, the possibilities will become endless.  The coatings industry must stay in front of these trends and use innovative technologies to enable new colors and opportunities for digital printing, two-toning and other unique designs that will shape consumer preferences of the future.”


Axalta’s research has shown that while neutral tones have consistently been more popular, non-neutral colors such as blue are emerging as popular in certain areas of the world. Europe and North America have the most blue-colored vehicles (10%), whereas China and South America report only 3% popularity in this color. On the other hand, some regions prefer warm shades of brown/beige, including Russia (12%), India (7%), Japan (5%) and China (4%).


In addition to a color’s shade, the gradient and texture matter, too. Axalta’s research shows that solid colors are trending, especially in varying hues of gray, blue and olive. Combination colors are also trending in the automotive market as consumers demand more customization and uniqueness in vehicle colors. Fine metallic-flake effects are becoming more popular in silver and dark grays, and the use of high-sparkle effects in rich colors such as reds, greens and coppers are also on the rise.


As industry and public sentiment toward color continues to evolve, the future of automotive colors will as well. The next generation of color will take on another meaning besides beauty and style: safety. As demand for autonomous vehicles increases, new specifications need to be defined and formally regulated, which includes paint color and translucency of color. This trend is coming, and the coatings industry must take a leadership role in making it happen.


Autonomous vehicles have key capabilities that differ from traditional cars, especially when it involves communication. Colorists have to identify how the paint color will effectively interact with LiDAR and RADAR technologies to enable vital vehicle-to-vehicle communication.


“As the automotive industry continues to require higher levels of automation, sensors will play a greater role in detecting the external environment. Automotive exterior coatings must facilitate, not hinder, the implementation of these sensors,” said Kevin O’Connor, Director of Global Marketing and Product Management at Axalta.


“Axalta has developed novel modeling tools and coating formulations that enable RADAR positioning behind plastic parts without compromising coating appearance,” continued O’Connor. “Without this capability, long-range RADAR would require the need of unsightly radomes installed around the perimeter of the vehicle.”


So the next time you purchase a vehicle, think about what goes into creating that color, making it last and all the technology baked into it. Axalta surely is. That’s the job of a global leader in the paint and coatings industry and an expert in color trends, technology and automotive coating innovations. Being able to adapt to consumer and industry preferences, while still being innovative, helps ensure the delivery of beautiful, sustainable and quality products, which allows Axalta to help paint the future.