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Proposed refinish legislation could cost industry millions

UK paint refinish companies are gearing up to meet proposed legislation in 2005 that could mean every paint product must meet a 420 grams per litre VOC emission target.

The present Environmental Protection Act, gradually introduced during the 1990s, allows paint companies and repairers to meet their VOC emissions targets by measuring the complete refinish system.

However, the proposed regulations, which “look likely” to be implemented according to one source, would force paint companies to make massive investment in developing new products.

Refinish products like clearcoats and primers already meet the requirements, but basecoats, which provide the colour, are where paint firms are predicting major investment.

The existing EPA regulations were met by developing products that had reduced solvent content. Refinish companies launched waterbased and high solids products to replace the solventbased systems.

These systems were initially slower and less efficient that their predecessors, which made repairers reluctant to use them. But continued research and development led to second and third generation systems that required less paint for full coverage and had quicker application and bake times than the solvent products.

Consequently, refinish companies are now selling smaller volumes of paint, made worst by the shrinking bodyshop market. This has intensified competition and led to an explosion in 'golden hellos' where the bodyshop is paid an 'up front discount' to encourage them to use the company's products.

Most body repairers have accepted the new technology, after a slow take up. But now they have made their own costly investment in changing products, such as HVLP sprayguns and training, the European authorities are indicating fresh legislation that would place more strain on the industry.

One paint company source said: “The automotive refinish market continues to demand faster paint systems, higher build and better covering power, all in an effort to improve productivity and reduce costs.

“However, paint companies research and development costs continue to rise due to environmental pressures. This proposed legislation would exacerbate the situation.”

The leading paint firms – Akzo Nobel Sikkens, which recently committed to waterbased systems; PPG and its ICI Autocolor division; DuPont, which also owns Standox and Spies Hecker; and the BASF brands R-M and Glasurit – have invested heavily in waterbased or high solids systems.

R-M was developing ultra high solids and high density pigment technology in the early 1980s to help repairers increase throughput and profitability by reducing applications to one coat, with no flash-off times.

The products, while developed to improve productivity, also reduced VOCs.

An R-M spokesman said: “Cost-effectiveness comes with the reduction in application times and the reduction in material used. With the proposed legislation demanding even lower emissions, BASF is now pioneering the development of slurry and foil coatings.”

Rising pressure on repairers, who may have to make costly investment in new products and technology to meet the proposed VOC emissions legislation, could force another round of consolidation, predicts PPG AutoRefinish.

Jeremy Sharam, PPG UK commercial manager, said: “PPG believes if we can work closely with repairers on increasing productivity and controlling costs, then we will help to ensure the survival of the bodyshop.”

The paint firm is working with repairers on its MVP bodyshop performance prog-ramme, recently expanded to include Paint Shop Performance, to help bodyshops assess their operational performance.

“Pressures will continue to force down cost in bodyshops and it is the role of the paint companies to help them achieve it,” said Mr Sharam.

He expects the impending review of Block Exemption will encourage more manufacturers to take a share in their dealer and body repair networks. Ford has blazed the trail, with stakes in Dagenham Motors, Pendragon and accident repairer Howard Basford.

Spies Hecker's waterborne system is typical of the improvements made since the launch of the first generation products. The company claims its system means more than 85% of colours reach opacity in 1.5 coats, resulting in materials savings of up to 40% over conventional products. Scottish group First Ford uses the system in its three bodyshops.

Aftersales general manager Peter Grant said the product was “far and away the most cost-effective system that we've tried”. He praised its application time and ease of drying.

But while all waterbased systems are now finding widespread favour, the proposed legislation means paint companies and bodyshops will need to gear up for possible additional investment in new technology.

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