How to forecast new OEM colours
Colour trends don’t suddenly appear and can’t be manufactured, but they can be identified with thorough trend analysis. Elke Dirks works as an OEM Colour Designer for Axalta Coating Systems and part of her job is to separate the trends that are ultimately unimportant from those that will be relevant. She says, “Good designers don’t create colour trends; they respond at the right time, in the right place, with the right colour for the right product. Developing an OEM colour is very complex and requires a long lead time, including several developmental and testing phases, so we are generally looking at colours for model years three to four years in advance.”
There are a number of ways to analyse trends. The first is monitoring other unrelated areas such as furniture, fashion, textiles and other types of consumer goods that might be transferrable to the automotive industry. A good example of this is the electronic and computer industries who were pioneers in the megatrend towards the colour white. This translated to cars and while is still number one in colour popularity today in Europe with 25% in total. The second is tracking nearly 60 years of colour statistics from Axalta’s Global Colour Popularity Report. “We look at country-specific factors to determine what cultural differences, traditions and preferences influence colour choice,” says Dirks.
Close cooperation with OEMs
Dirks says, “We work closely with our OEM partners to create individual colour profiles for them, as colours and designs are used as a point of competitive differentiation.”
Elke Dirks works as OEM Colour Designer for Axalta in Europe, Middle East and Africa
Dirks analyses model-specific characteristics from the OEM to understand what forms and lines can be accentuated with colour and effect. High flop colours, for example, can be visually interpreted as a break in bodywork form and can upset the overall aesthetic, and sometimes colours can appear flawed on particularly angular components. From there, taking into account the overall vehicle concept, she develops a range of colours that not only meet the OEM’s specific design demands but also are technically feasible for series production.
She then presents her proposed colours to the OEM’s colour and trim department, whose design experts ultimately choose which colours, from those presented by Axalta, will roll off their production lines. While every vehicle model has its own colour range, common reasons to choose a particular colour range can include the desire to emphasise form and shape, or to position a trend or volume colour.
Paint working with technology
With more autonomic or self-drive vehicles being manufactured, it’s essential to understand the way in which paint works with and can affect this technology. Autonomic vehicles work with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems and highly reflective, lighter colours can contribute to its functionality. Coupled with the association of sustainability and eco-friendliness with clean, light colours, many manufacturers are choosing soft and sober colours for their eco concepts.
Dirks reassures that this doesn’t mean the end of darker coloured cars. “Car manufacturers are looking at technologies and systems that will successfully detect dark colours,” she says. The companies research and development teams are working on NIR colours, which are visible to LiDAR systems, and which will give car manufactures a wider choice of colour options for the future.
As Dirks concludes, “Being an OEM colour designer requires a great deal of skill and experience. I have to have a thorough understanding not only of colour, tone and effect and how those can impact shape and form, but also of the characteristics of the paint itself, including pigment composition, the application technology and exact series specifications. Everything must work together harmoniously in order to create the perfect result for the OEM that will stand the test of time.”