The right color underlines the character of a car like no other feature. Designer Mark Gutjahr from paint specialist BASF and his team anticipate the painting trends in the automotive industry years in advance.
Mark Gutjahr’s raw materials are on the work table of his studio. Among them a few pebbles, colorful papers and an empty Italian tomato can. Waste? Not at all! For the designer, these objects are witnesses to the zeitgeist. Gutjahr and the global design team at BASF are researching what automotive paints tomorrow’s customers will want.
After all, the paint on the cars should still look modern — not old-fashioned — even years after purchase. “That is why it’s important to recognize long-term trends and not chase after every short-lived fashion,” says the 49-year-old. The paint specialists engage in this task in an old villa on the edge of the factory premises in the German city of Münster. Once the color shades of the future have been determined, the appropriate formulations for a ready-to-apply paint must be developed in the laboratory. This process takes three to five years.
Gutjahr notes the increasing importance of colors in the automotive industry. This is due to the fact that stricter safety regulations are increasingly limiting the manufacturers’ design options. Thus, it is becoming more and more difficult for cars to stand out from the competition by their design. The significance of paint as a differentiator is thus increasing. Ideally, the shades offered by a certain manufacturer should be unique to that maker.
Social trends play a role in the search for popular colors — for example digitalization, sustainability, and individuality. Overall, Gutjahr currently sees a trend toward variety and color. “It should be colorful but not too flashy,” says the designer. More and more subtle tones are in demand, which may also range to pastel shades.
In order to make trends visible, BASF experts present key color shades for the major world regions every year. For Europe, they worked out a subtle yellow in 2022, with a dash of ivory mixed in. For South America, there was a copper-beige shade that gives a radiant shine, especially to the small cars that are common there.
When developing new shades, BASF not only works with car manufacturers, but also has to look at the paint technology that comes from companies like Dürr. After all, colors only develop their full beauty when applied correctly from a technical point of view. This is particularly true for special effects that can be achieved, for example, with an additional layer of colored clear coat. “This lends the color of the car a particular depth,” Gutjahr says.
Dürr ensures that the painting lines of car factories are prepared for such trends. This also applies to paints with pigments mixed in, which refract the light in a special way. They refine the conventional shades of gray, black, or white. These so-called achromatic colors are often ordered for fleet vehicles because they facilitate resale.
It should be colorful but not too flashy.
Mark Gutjahr, Designer at BASF
Gutjahr emphasizes that there are various trend colors that differ not only regionally. They also depend on the type of vehicle and its drive. On a global scale, numerous manufacturers are offering new e-cars painted sky blue, according to Gutjahr, adding: “This would have been unthinkable for vehicles with combustion engines.” With e-cars, on the other hand, the color appears clear and clean.
Manufacturers are now also presenting their electric cars in colorful shades, but they like to give them a black roof. Why? The battery located in the floor space often makes e-cars higher, which some consider inelegant. The black roof makes them look lower. For automakers, this two-tone painting requires considerably more resources — unless they use the EcoPaintJet developed by Dürr. This innovative application system ensures the razor-sharp application of paint. Time-consuming masking of surfaces that are not to be painted becomes unnecessary, making the process faster and more environmentally friendly.