Budget and mid-range paint brands offering minimal technical support have enjoyed an explosion in popularity over the past five years as repairers demand less expensive systems for a second or third product line.
Akzo Nobel launched its 'value-for-money' Lesonal brand to the UK market in 1996 – it is now one of the fastest growing refinish products.
DuPont has highlighted this area for potential growth and is considering using mature technology to develop EPA compliant economy clearcoats and primers targeting mid-range bodyshop business.
Werner Boeykens, DuPont Refinish product marketing manager for Europe and Asia Pacific, said: “These cheaper brands have acceptable properties for the refinish sector. If we remain in the top segment, we will miss out on this growing business.
“We are looking to develop cheaper products by using mature technology. But they will still be of acceptable property – they will not be low quality.”
He believes clearcoats and primers are the prime examples of products that can be sold at a cheaper price with minimum technical support.
“We would never launch an economy basecoat without full technical back-up because of the colour issues,” he said. “We would need to develop tens of thousands of colours, which requires investment. This cost would need to be retrieved.”
The next legislation deadlines , which require bodyshops to cut solvent consumption by 60% are in 2007. The reduction scheme is based on the typical compliant bodyshop mix of 75% organic solvents and 25% solids – the target is to change the ratio to 55% organics and 45% solids by 2007, although there is an intermediary level of 36% solids by 2005.
“The technologies that can take us there include high (and ultra high) solids, waterborne and UV-curing primers and clearcoats,” said Mr Boeykens.
“It is a question of developing products that meet customers' needs by balancing the properties.
“When the economic conditions are good repairers are concerned with the amount of activity in the bodyshop – they want products with quick drying times to ensure the spraybooth does not become a bottleneck.
“But when the conditions are not so good, bodyshops look at the economics of the product, not the speed of application. We need to develop products that balance both these needs while meeting the legislative requirements.”
DuPont's main focus is on waterborne products, which offer a “good balance” in properties.
“There are no longer any major quality issues using waterborne – they are virtually as good as solventborne, although drying times need more attention,” said Mr Boeykens.
Primers and clearcoats are causing paint companies greater problems because using waterborne technology for these products hits productivity. Many bodyshops prefer existing solventborne products.
“High solids is the best alternative which meets the present legislation. But it does not meet the more stringent 2007 deadlines,” said Mr Boeykens.
“We need to develop the technology that encourages repairers to change.”
He believes the latest environmentally compliant products will be adopted prior to the legislative deadline only by repairers who wish to be seen as eco-friendly businesses. Their stance will often be influenced by large customers who are environmentally focused.
In addition, many carmakers have demanded that their franchised dealer bodyshops use the latest waterborne technology as they look to foster an environmentally sound image.
“Some bodyshops do not have to change because they fall below the one-tonne threshold limit. They will continue to use old product because it is cheaper than the new technology,” said Mr Boeykens.
“Small bodyshops tend to think in terms of price per litre rather than the cost of usage. We need to get the message across that while they will pay more for a tin of environmentally compliant paint, they will use less product because it has better hiding power. They will make big gains in productivity performance.”
Paint manufacturers have tended to disagree over the importance to refinish of having an OEM presence. ICI Autocolor, the UK refinish market leader, was dismissive of original finish paints when it pulled out of its IDAC partnership with DuPont in the early 1990s.
Senior executives claimed it had no bearing over developing new refinish technologies. DuPont believes refinish suppliers can learn from developments in OEM, particularly in terms of pigments being applied and the types of system used.
Mr Boeykens said: “An OEM presence makes it easier for us to adapt our refinish systems to OEM quality. It is important to understand the properties of OEM paint.”