It’s taken roughly 10 years for Lotus-Effect paint to go from laboratory scale and proof-of-concept to future commercialization with Nissan introducing its prototype “Leaf” model with self-cleaning paint.
So how long might it take before the vehicle population contains enough self-cleaning cars to have an adverse affect on the car wash industry? Perhaps it has already started.
Today, coating manufacturers anticipate environmental regulations and the need for even more weight savings to increase CAFÉ numbers will continue to push the auto industry toward lower VOC requirements and more use of new plastics.
For example, companies are working with OEMs to develop colored plastic paint film that adheres by thermo-forming the material directly to the vehicle body frames and panels.
Thermo-forming involves a mechanism that resembles a printing press to apply a clear coat, followed by a pigmented layer of colored paint and then an adhesive layer that bonds the film to the part when it is molded. The base film is then stripped away, leaving a flexible, durable, high-gloss coating.
The resulting product is a higher quality color adhered directly to the vehicle’s body that can be matched to any color in the rainbow or it can be infused with metal flakes for a chrome-like finish.
Because the color is built into the film, small scratches and dings do not show up as readily as they would with traditional paint. In fact, this plastic paint film is equivalent to 15 coats of traditional automotive paint.
The film is sealed with a thick clear coat, further protecting it from wear and tear. Plastic film is resistant to UV fading and retains a showroom shine longer than traditional paint.
Another self-cleaning technology is acrylic-PTFE adhesive-back film that can be applied directly to paint finishes. This film repels dirt and water, increases gloss by up to 40 percent and protects paintwork from fading and impairment and removes the requirement for waxing for several years.
In PPG’s OEM business, the use of UV-cured and self-healing clear-coat technology is around the corner and waterborne primers and clears will be commonplace on original finishes in 2015.
Long term, coatings are expected to become even more green and sustainable. This includes smart coatings like self-stratifying coatings (technology that combines two or more processes into one application) and IR coatings (products that alter surface temperatures), which are already being researched.
Experts believe coating technology will one day allow colors to change similar to transitional lenses in eyeglasses, or change based on the driver’s whim and a switch on the dash.
This isn’t smoke and mirrors. Visual appeal sells cars and consumers who spend a good portion of their annual income on a car are going to be very interested in getting better quality and less maintenance that’s already built into the price of the car.
Consequently, the 1950s illustration shown above and self-cleaning cars may be closer than we think.
Bob Roman is president of RJR Enterprises – Consulting Services (www.carwashplan.com). You can reach Bob via e-mail at email@example.com.