As one of the top three materials suppliers of OEM coatings BASF is not relaxing; it continues to research new products and collaborate with chemical company partners

On January 1 this year Dr. Alexander Haunschild assumed responsibility for the Automotive OEM Coatings Europe business unit at BASF Coatings.

Haunschild faces many challenges; as the global automotive market continues to expand, there are fewer paint and coatings suppliers than as recently as 10 years ago. This conglomeration has led, in some observers’ opinions, to a lack of choice that is unique to the auto industry. This oligopoly situation could mean a lack of effective competition that might lead to inflexible pricing structures and less than dynamic R&D programmes. We started the interview by asking Haunschild how this situation affects choice for the carmaker customer.

APS: Please tell us your take on the global paint and coatings materials market in automotive, particularly about how the market is fairly well dominated by very few suppliers; how does this affect choice for carmakers and how does it affect price?

Dr. Alexander Haunschild (AH): We provide innovative technology and a broad range of competence for all paint layers with e-coats, primers, basecoats and clearcoats. In the field of automotive OEM coatings, BASF Coatings is one of the top three global leaders. In Europe we are market leader.

There is a very challenging competition situation, not only among the well-known OEM-coating suppliers but also with Asian and local European companies offering their products in the OEM coating market. Additionally the current situation of raw material cost increase is very challenging. The necessary investments in technology can only be made if sufficient profitabililty is ensured.

APS: Primerless paint. What are the product strategies at BASF?

AH: Boosting efficiency and maintaining ecological balances play key roles in automotive OEM coating – especially with the help of integrated processes. This system will be the application standard of the future. Car manufacturers can work in a more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly manner. With BASF Coatings’ Integrated Process II, the functionality of the primer is integrated in the basecoat layer – with no compromise to the high quality of the finish. The entire section of the line devoted to primers can be eliminated and the coating line shortened as a result. A new waterborne basecoat system takes on the functions of the primer. Currently, 50 to 70% of the energy costs associated with the production line are caused by the paintshop. With the Integrated Process II, 15 to 20% of these costs can be saved.

APS: What innovative products can BASF offer to saisfy the demand for cleaner and more environmentally-friendly coatings?

AH: In addition to increases in efficiency with integrated processes, environmentally friendly products are very important. For instance, we produce the tin-free product lines CathoGuard 800 and 900 for cathodic e-coating. Waterborne basecoats are becoming increasingly significant, not only in Europe, but throughout the world. BASF Coatings is a pioneer in this area. Exactly 25 years ago, we launched waterborne basecoat production at our Würzburg site. In addition to environmental topics, color and distinction through color are important trends for us.

APS: The three-wet system - how far do you see this spreading in the industry - from the most economy vehicles to super luxury?

AH: There is a high demand from the OEM coating market for shorter application processes. Our integrated process has great potential for high end cars, however our customers pursue individual strategies for their processes and demands.

Therefore BASF is developing different variants for short processes and we are supporting our customers globally in this area. The three-wet solvent-borne process is one of them.

APS: Some carmakers and some material suppliers have said that waterborne clearcoat applications are unlikely to exist in the near future. Some others say it is working well - what is BASF’s take on this?

AH: BASF has been supplying the SlurryGloss clearcoat, a waterborne clearcoat technology, for some years now.

However we experience no trend towards this technology in the market. Since the technology has not spread in the OEM industry we expect its phase-out. As for the emissions from the clearcoat oven (using solvent-borne clearcoat), they can be very effectively regulated by the incineration systems that are commonly installed in paintshop facilities.

APS: Mat finishes - what is the demand like now and how large can it become?

AH: More and more carmakers are presenting models with mat clearcoats. Previously only used with custom paint jobs, now they are increasingly being used in smaller production runs as well.

Mat clearcoat changes the effect of the coating. It can give silver colors in particular a cool, high-tech feel and create almost haptic effects.

The application of mat clearcoats is a more sophisticated procedure than standard OEM coating. That is why in the past it has only been used in smaller circulation lines for individual series. But we are working steadily to further optimize mat clearcoat technology, as we expect demand to rise.

APS: Wraps and films - do you see them taking a lot of finishing business away from paints?

AH: No. The OEMs expect a high quality product. And automotive coatings have to withstand all kinds of impacts, including years of rain, hail, ice and snow, heat and cold, as well as brushing at the car wash. Gravel and chippings on dirt tracks, desert sand, or salt scattered on roads in the winter must not damage them. Nor must they suffer under the sun’s aggressive UV rays. Only a high quality paint system is able to satisfy these aspirations and requirements. Also in terms of cost there is a clear advantage for coatings when we consider covering a very complex, three-dimensional object like a car.

APS: Will BASF grow business and offer products in the earlier finishing stages on vehicle body?

AH: An example of our activity in this area is our research joint venture with Henkel. This was founded in 2010 with the goal of developing innovative corrosion protection solutions for the automotive industry. It aims to develop products and methods that bring about significant advantages over today’s standard processes for corrosion protection in the automotive industry with regard to economic efficiency, performance capacity and environmental compatibility.

APS: As more OEMs look for lighter weight body solutions, are you working on a portfolio of specialist aluminium and composite finishes, primers, topcoats and clearcoats?

AH: Today, a distinct mix of materials and lighter weight bodies are already a standard feature of a number of car models. Here, BASF’s CathoGuard e-coats have particularly proved themselves when it comes to combinations of steel and light metals for the body-in-white. The continued use of plastics is very interesting for the BASF Group. Plastics that can be coated online will play a greater role in the future. In addition, parts coated offline will also continue to gain in significance. For years, BASF Coatings has played a leading role as a supplier to Tier suppliers. Thus our competence in color matching will become even more important. It will be a key area for our R&D portfolio.

APS: What ideas would you like to offer for the future when it comes to automotive OEM coatings? Which technologies will you push forward?

AH: Color is a very important topic for me. Practically no other factor determines the effect of a car the way its color does. Colors are what turn vehicles into emotional products.

BASF Coatings is the global expert in color. One example of innovative technology is our scratch-resistant clearcoat iGloss. The product offers better protection against microscratches, which can happen in the car wash, for example. This preserves the “new car effect” for considerably longer.