12/15/2003 | 3 MINUTE READ


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Automotive paint suppliers are always trying to stay ahead of the curve. That is, they are continually attempting to determine what vehicle designers will want. So their design staffs monitor what's going on around the world, they check out what other types of industrial designers are doing, and they, of course, attend auto shows (realize that concept cars tend to be covered with 'concept coatings'). They not only work to anticipate trends, but to create them. And the paint suppliers mount color shows, in-house exhibits for automotive designers, in which they show what they think may be, or could be, the color pallet of the future.


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Jon Hall, manager, Color Development, BASF Automotive OEM Coatings Business Group (Southfield, MI), is standing in a large room (or small hall) in the company’s Southfield site. There are an assortment of bright, colorful Chinese kites affixed to the ceiling trusses. There is New Age music playing. Dangling from wires—next to signs reading “Illusion,” “Wizard,” “Charmed,” and the like in an exotic script—are brightly colored half-spheres on mounting boards, one sphere to each side, spheres about the size of Moon wheel colors. This, Hall explains, is the color show, one that’s based on the “cirque” (as in Cirque du Soleil®). Festive. Theatrical. And, yes, colorful. “With a show like this, we show the diversity of trend ideas that we have, as well as the new technology and the new pigments that we offer. We want to stimulate the automotive design people.” This is not just a case of the people in BASF Southfield showing what they think are the important trends and developments. The company’s design groups from Hiltrup, Germany, and Yokohama/Totsuka, Japan, also contribute to the vision. “We pride ourselves on discovery and invention,” he says, adding, “We know we can’t stay in this business and just capture and hold things. You make discoveries, then introduce them to the market.” Among the discoveries that he cites are the three-coat white pearls that were developed with Porsche and the high-shifting color effects of the Mystic Cobra Mustang. One effect that he thinks may become the next different thing to catch on in the coatings world is a development that’s emerged from one of its pigment suppliers: a holographic silver. The effect is like a rainbow, the sort of thing that you can see reflected in an audio CD. What’s interesting is that this is a powder coating. There had been work underway to try to replicate a look that was achieved with liquid. “I was called down to the lab because they were not able to match the color,” Hall notes. “They had made things look better than liquid coating while trying to match it.” One of the drivers of the appearance of a coating is the technology used, with there being differences between water-borne, solvent-borne, high-solids, and medium-solids, such that while there may be a certain metallic look with a solvent-borne coating, it could be substantially different if the same flake is used in a water-borne coating. “We go through the process a lot,” he says.

Jon Hall
JonHall, manager of Color Development at BASF Automotive OEM Coatings, preparingthe 2003 Color Trends Show. As he observes, "We show the diversityof trend ideas that we have, as well as the new technology and the new pigments that we offer."

Speaking of what he thinks will be the next big color, he remarks that he anticipates a “breaking away from the hold that silvers and grays have had on the market for the past four or five years,” that there will be a move to blue, not only as a color onto itself, but also in other colors. Red, in particular. Hall notes that reds have generally been on the yellow side, and that with the creation of bluer red pigments the color could be revived. He observes, “People think of bright red as being somewhat Ferrari-like, but it’s not. The traditional Ferrari red was a bluer, darker, more blood-like red. That’s the direction we’re going, but with new pigments and new technologies.”

Although some people think that fashion designers are way ahead of automotive designers and often followed by the auto people, Hall disagrees. He says that all good designers and artists are interested in what others are doing in other fields. But, he points out, “In fashion, you almost never buy something because you intend to wear it every day.” You drive your car or truck every day. “You never buy fashion and leave it in the garage or outside.” Closets, yes. “You wouldn’t expect that if you had a great Versace suit that you could rip it and then bring it in to get sewn up as good as new.” Auto designers have lots to keep in mind. “If you were a fashion designer and were told that all you could design for the rest of your life is winter coats, and told, ‘Now show me something interesting,’ you could be labeled ‘conservative’ fairly fast.” Cars may not change like runway fashions. Colors tend to have slow transitions (from the color show to the driveway, Hall estimates that it could take three years—and if a company has 15 colors in its lineup, it might change just a few any given model year). But they do change. Sometimes like a rainbow.