from smart pigments to self-healing paint, this is what the next generation of vehicle exteriors could look like
Talking about paint is about as interesting as watching it dry, right? Well . . . not anymore. Just as technology is changing how cars are built and driven, so too is it transforming the skin that coats them. Advances range from pigments that change colour or deter heat to particles that can repair themselves when scratched — and manufacturers are racing to find the perfect formulas that will outshine the competition.
“It’s a really exciting time at the moment, and we as designers are thinking about what’s next,” says Claudia Braun, senior manager of color and trim at Mercedes-Benz. Braun says one of the hottest trends is to use tinted clear coats, or to incorporate metallic flakes into the clear coat, which gives exterior colours more pop. “In the past, we would bring the flakes only into the base coat, but with this [technique] you can have a little more brightness and something a little more special.” On the Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrow concept, shown during this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Braun and her team created a paint that looks like liquid metal. “The particles are very thin and flat; I can best describe it like they organised themselves on the shape of the car like a mural, creating this metallic skin that emphasises the design more than any other paint or finish.”
At Infiniti, the brand’s Dynamic Sunstone Red colour is created by layering a red-tinted clear coat on top of a copper-based colour, which is applied using a combination of mechanical and manual techniques. A dedicated paint booth was created to allow Infiniti’s paint specialists extra precision to control the thickness and quality of the coating.
As climates get hotter, carmakers are increasingly looking to cooling paint technologies to keep occupants comfortable and improve vehicle efficiency. “Heat-reducing pigments are going to be really important, especially for the luxury market,” says Kristen Keenan, founder and design director for Trichromatic Studio, a colour, material and finish design house. She cites new pigments from paint supplier BASF, which can be added to both exterior and interior paints to reduce heat buildup by up to 50 percent. Keenan says these pigments have been used for some time in the construction industry and are now beginning to find their way into automotive. Braun says her team at Mercedes-Benz is also working on paints that contain special cooling pigments, which the company hopes to offer on its production vehicles within two years.
Heat reduction can also be achieved through the application process itself. Ferrari, in partnership with supplier PPG Industries, has begun using a new “low cure” paint system with a specially formulated clear coat that allows vehicles to be baked at a much lower temperature than before. Not only is the new paint more efficient, but it’s also reportedly more scratch and water resistant.