The Automotive OEM Market Faces Challenges, Opportunities in 2022

Leading automotive paint manufacturers report that new car sales are moving forward, but supply chain issues are a serious concern.

As we drive down the road, it’s clear that cars and trucks are a major part of our daily lives. Of course, coatings play a huge role among these cars and trucks, whether aesthetically or to protect the vehicle itself.

Cars and trucks come in many colors, from the traditional blacks, silvers and whites to reds, greens, blues and countless others, while providing resistance to the elements.

The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the market for new cars and trucks in 2020 and 2021, and the automotive OEM market was significantly depressed for a second year in 2021.

Supply chain issues such as the shortage of semiconductors is hindering growth this year. A shortage of microchips, extreme weather events like a winter freeze in Texas, destocked value chains due to the COVID-19 crisis, and transportation bottlenecks caused rolling shutdowns of vehicle assembly plants across the Americas. Vehicle production was still below 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

Still, leading automotive paint manufacturers reported growth in 2021, with expectations for more opportunities in 2022.

“Our team worked very hard to keep our customers up and running,” said Jeff Jones, BASF vice president, global key account management. “Despite the challenges, demand for new vehicles was still very strong. We found alternate sources of raw materials, evaluated reformulations when necessary, and renegotiated supply contracts and pricing.

Our team put forth a herculean effort in ensuring supply reliability to our OEM and Tier business partners. We never shut down a customer’s plant.”

Vincent Robin, global vice president, Automotive Coatings for PPG, noted that during 2021, the automotive OEM coatings market faced significant challenges, with customer component shortages and raw material inflation that was up by about 30%.

“In addition to the parts shortages, labor challenges impacted our customers’ production plans to a point where the global light vehicle production was marginally above the level of 2020, a very depressed year due to the start of the pandemic, which puts us 14% behind the level of 2019,” added Robin.

Patricia Morschel, vice president of global refinish marketing and commercial operations at Axalta, said that 2021 was another challenging year.

“We were all affected by supply shortages, increased inflation, price increases and labor disruptions due to the global pandemic,” Morschel observed. “In the second half of 2021, we saw tightness in several materials due to supply chain constraints. However, we’re encouraged to see recovery in automotive volumes back to prior peak levels over the course of several years, including some growth in 2022.”

The supply chain disruptions were felt throughout the automotive industry. Robin said that PPG worked closely with customers to try to manage it.

“In all regions as it continues to recover from pandemic-related disruptions, PPG focused on helping customers manage through the headwinds of global raw material shortages through our global network of suppliers and our ability to innovate products that serve multiple markets,” Robin reported.

One approach PPG utilized was its Optima Solutions business.

“Through our Optima Solutions business, our in-plant technical teams were able to adjust material supply and maintain continuity through disruptions in OEM paint lines during the year,” Robin said. “We advanced our product development pipeline in keeping with our focus on the mobility sector and delivering sustainably enabled products.”

Robin noted that PPG has Optima Solution team members in more than 1,100 automotive manufacturing facilities worldwide, so PPG has intimate knowledge of what is happening in its customers’ facilities.

“COVID-19 impacted the overall staffing levels and disrupted production plans at our customers,” observed Robin. “The semiconductor shortage continues to have a significant impact on the automotive industry globally and the level of uncertainty that exists relative to supply chain is forcing significant changes to be made to production plans at a late stage, which creates additional stress and cost in the supply chain.”

What is Ahead in 2022

By some accounts, the automotive market may not bounce back quickly in 2022, as production curtailments have left dealers struggling for inventory and consumers facing higher prices.

“The COVID-19 virus, geopolitical events, and transportation bottlenecks are all wildcards that we are closely following. We continue to manage all aspects of our supply chain tightly to ensure that we are able to meet demand but also prevent overstocking of unneeded goods. That’s a challenge for products like OEM coatings that have a shelf life,” said Jones.

Robin added that entering into 2022, there is some easing of the supply chain issues, which will lead to an increase in vehicle production, especially in the second half of 2022.

“The flow of materials seems to be improving through the production facilities and we do see volume increasing so dealers can improve their inventory positions and fleets can replenish their supply,” added Robin. “There are, however, still challenges that could disrupt this view going forward. Recent protest actions, tied to COVID-19 policies, are impacting automotive supply chains, and are resulting in automotive plants suspending production due to parts shortages.”

Robin said that in terms of growth, USCA and EMEA regions builds are expected to rebound by more than double-digits in 2022, supported by the underlying strong consumer demand which has put the inventory levels at the dealers at very low levels at the end of 2021.

“This stronger demand in EMEA will support our integration plan for commercial synergies after the 2021 acquisitions PPG made in Germany of Worwag and Cetelon,” he added. “Through these acquisitions, PPG can offer a full product offering to our automotive parts customers and to help them to make the right choices for new coatings technologies in their path towards sustainability.”

Asia Pacific is a growing market for innovations in chemistry and BASF has been active in the region since 1885. The company has announced numerous large investments to strengthen its unique position in the market and to capture growth in OEM coatings. Massive adoption of electric vehicles is also a key growth driver around the globe. BASF has identified opportunities when supporting OEM customers through this transition process, and is partnering with new start-ups in Europe and North America as well.

Another market which has its own dynamic for growth is China.

“We continue to believe that China has significant short- and long-term growth potential for all segments that we serve,” Morschel said.

“Asia Pacific continues to be a growth region for global chemical production, with China as the major driver,” said Jones, adding that by 2030, China’s share of global chemical production will increase to nearly 50%.

Robin sees the electric vehicle (EV) segment as a good opportunity for PPG.

“The adoption of electrical vehicles (EV) is going faster than in any other regions in the world,” Robin said. “It is expected that five million EVs could be built in China in 2022.

Our sales content per vehicle is much higher for EVs as we launched innovative solutions for battery packs, so we are excited about the growth opportunities with EVs.”

Color Trends in Automotive

BASF reported that the total number of vehicles built on the world’s assembly lines in 2020 and 2021 was significantly lower than the years before. That put a sharper point on the popularity of certain color spaces in the BASF Color Report 2021 for Automotive OEM Coatings. It also knocked some perennial favorites down a few points.

The achromatic colors – white, black, gray, and silver – are still the most popular, BASF found. They have classic, timeless beauty, and a connection to both the environment and high technology. But some cracks are showing in their armor as new color spaces emerge.

As predicted by BASF’s designers years ago, blue is surging in popularity in many parts of the world. Red is also rising, taking market share from the achromatic colors. Even though the numbers are smaller, green and beige still show up in the data, and the colors aren’t the typical shades you might expect. Instead of the usual forest green, there’s more khaki and teal.

In December 2021, Axalta released its 69th annual Global Automotive Color Popularity Report. Morschel noted that Axalta frequently surveys the market to understand the needs and wishes of car buyers around the world.

“Our expertise in identifying color trends and color popularity and combining that with the science of color demonstrates our color leadership in the market,” she added. “We continue to be on the leading-edge of bringing to life innovative and functional automotive colors that align with consumer trends. Our 2021 Global Automotive Color Popularity Report showed that the top automotive colors on the road today are White (35%), Black (19%) and Gray (19%). Gray increased by four percentage points worldwide due to increased interest seen around the globe.”

Overall, Axalta reported that the popularity of white hit a long-term high of 39% in 2017 and has seen declines in several regions each year since. This year, white declined three percentage points, largely due to a decrease seen in all regions, especially China, with a 7% decrease.

Meanwhile, Axalta reported that Royal Magenta, a deep cherry color, is its Global Automotive Color of the Year 2022.

“Earlier this year, we announced our 2021 Global Automotive Color of the Year, Royal Magenta,” said Morschel. “This luxury color concept showcases move toward magenta hues, sustainability and autonomous driving. It delivers a new luxury look that is optimized for future mobility, which we’re seeing as an increasing trend.”

“This year, we have designed a complex-looking color that can be applied in a simplified manner,” added Nancy Lockhart, global product manager of color at Axalta, in announcing the selection. “The design process began by tinting waterborne paints with various layering systems to provide depth and color. With sustainability in mind, the end color was achieved with a conventional basecoat – clearcoat layering. It’s as easy on the eyes as it is to apply.”

PPG’s 2021 Automotive Color Report found that globally, white (35% of vehicle builds) and black (18%) continue to be the predominant choices of car buyers, while demand for grays has increased 2% in each of the past two years. Blues remain strong at 8%, while reds dropped to 7% of builds. This was led by a 1.5% drop among North American consumers.

Robin said he is seeing increasing interest in two-tone effects in the automotive segment.

“We are seeing a rise in two-tone color applications and requests for personalization in the industry and in society overall,” Robin added. “We expect to see growth globally. It’s also fitting that two-tones would come back in favor during this time when society is looking to the past, adding a modern spin, and re-introducing retro colors and styles.”

“Along with special-order colors, tinted clearcoats, tri-coats and matte finishes, two-tone finishes better reflect vehicle owners’ individual preferences and personalities,” added Misty Yeomans, PPG color styling manager, automotive OEM, Americas, in announcing PPG’s findings.

Robin pointed out that the conventional process for achieving a two-tone finish requires that a vehicle be fully coated with primer, up to two basecoats and a clearcoat before paint shop personnel mask off areas that will not receive the second color.

“The vehicle must then be run a second time through the paint line or a repair line, where the contrasting color and an additional clearcoat are applied,” he noted. “In addition to reducing paint shop capacity, this second run can add significant material, labor and energy costs to the total unit cost of the vehicle.”

To help its automotive OEM customers, PPG has developed a range of solutions to overcome this double processing challenge.

“The first group of these solutions involves wet-on-wet or dry-on dry processing that enables multiple layers to be applied without a curing step between the layers,” Robin reported. “These solutions enable a two-tone unit to be processed in one production cycle, saving energy, reducing carbon footprint per vehicle, and increasing manufacturing capacity.

“Beyond these solutions, PPG has developed a precision application automotive coatings technology that revolutionizes the process of creating a two-tone vehicle for OEMs,” he continued. “This technology is a zero-overspray coating system that greatly streamlines the painting of two-tone vehicles. The system produces crisp paint edges without the use of masking and other time-intensive steps currently required to achieve a two-tone finish.”

The process, which applies a specially designed PPG decorative coating using innovative application heads, reduces paint shop time by approximately 50 minutes per two-tone vehicle. The new process also eliminates the need for extra cleaning and detackification.

“Additionally, this process advances customer sustainability goals by reducing CO2 emissions and eliminating energy-intensive air filtering systems that handle overspray from the paint application process, further reducing costs and improving efficiency without compromising quality,” added Robin. “The PPG precision application automotive coatings technology has been selected as a finalist for the 2021 Automotive News PACE Pilot Award.”

Performance Needs

Color is the most apparent aspect of automotive paint and coatings. Performance in production as well as sustainability are also critical.

Customers have asked BASF to develop more efficient processes, and BASF has responded with integrated paint systems that reduce the length and environmental impact of the production line. They reduce CO2 emissions, save energy, and lower material consumption.

“Our customers are driven by performance and cost. We come through with both,” said Jaime Manon-Macias, head of marketing, The Americas. “OEMs are also focusing more on sustainability. Every innovation must help us reach our own internal sustainability goals, and the goals of our customers.”

PPG’s Robin noted that sustainability is at the forefront when discussing coatings.

“The industry continues to prioritize sustainable coatings solutions, including more water-based technologies and low temperature cure products, enabling our end customers to reduce their energy consumption on the manufacturing line,” said Robin. “In addition, we are focused on enabling light weighting to help OEM customers meet their fuel efficiency in internal combustion engines and adequately provide range extension in battery electric vehicles. Further, PPG is delivering adhesive and sealant solutions that manage noise and vibration more effectively in xEV vehicles. These enhance the quality of the cabin environment.”

Supply management is also a topic that comes up.

“From a digital perspective, there is certainly an increased focus on demand planning and supply chain efficiency,” Robin noted. “In many cases, adhesives and sealants have a shelf-life, therefore it is important to manage the supply and demand. PPG is using big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict demand. This helps us better service our customer base while operating an efficient supply chain.

“Additionally, we are focused on developing and delivering multi-functional products to improve efficiency and SKU rationalization,” Robin continued. “We are also providing products that can be applied using automation on the manufacturing floor to ensure precise distribution of product and quality consistency.”

New Technologies

Gone are the days when coatings are only judged by their color. Today’s coatings are far more hi-tech, especially considering the advent of EVs and the potential of self-driving autonomous vehicles.

“With autonomous vehicles being one of the primary Mobility trends, the industry expects greater needs for advanced coating technologies,” Robin said. “For example, road markings must provide enhanced visibility to vehicle ADAS systems in all weather conditions.”

Robin noted that PPG’s autonomous vehicle coatings offerings include light absorption and sensor detection as well as easy-clean composite coatings and anti-fingerprint coatings. He discussed these trends.

“Coatings will be crucial to the variety of sensors that will allow vehicles to communicate with each other, to see each other, and to detect obstacles and the path of roadways (i.e. roadway markings),” Robin reported. “In a test, a black car reflected just 6 percent of the near infrared signal that a white car did, making it dramatically less ‘visible’ on the road.

“How is PPG working to address concerns around this?,” Robin added. “PPG has designed coatings that will have enhanced dark color vehicle detection that allow the light to penetrate down toward a reflective under-layer. The signal ‘bounces off’ this layer and returns to the sensor instead of being absorbed. PPG could utilize these paints not only for cars, but also for infrastructure and road markers, so that standing structures like bridges and lane markers can be clearly identified and precisely measured by a car’s sensors.

“PPG is creating a transparent easy-to-clean lens coating technology that enhances ADAS vision performance. The coating allows dirt and water to efficiently wash away from sensor lenses, eliminating obstructions that could be caused by snow, ice or debris. Additionally, this supports clearer vision of roadway markings,” Robin added.

“With the automotive industry pivoting to utilizing the latest and greatest technology to deliver on the future of mobility, society’s use of automobiles will also be shifting,” Robin noted. “Paints and coatings will play a role in this shift and will need to advance the technology to improve operator safety.”

BASF noted that new electrocoat technologies are supporting future mobility trends. Cathoguard New Generation offers increased reactivity to broaden the baking window. This allows for lower underbake conditions, while maintaining high quality standards and the sustainability of BASF products.

BASF also created a brand-new clearcoat formulation in 2021 to address the needs of one of its largest customers. After trials in early in the year, the appearance improvement was immediately noticeable in the plant, especially in thin film areas, BASF reported. Senior managers were impressed with the improvement that was achieved from their existing 20+ year old equipment.

“Appearance matters. We make our customer’s vehicles look great in a sustainable way,” said Jones. “As long as we continue doing that, we will be our customers’ partner of choice.”

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