Bright Prospects.

More than color – high tech

The road to dreary monochrome.

Psychologists, neurobiologists, and advertising consultants are constantly developing studies of personal color preferences in order to delve into the customer’s psyche. Black, for example, represents power, while owners of white cars are said to be conscientious; red is dynamic, and yellow is sporty. Color designers in Germany are fighting an ongoing battle to change car buyers’ preferences. We don’t see much color on German roads: According to statistics recorded by the Federal Motor Transport Authority in 2016, roughly 55 percent of all new cars are bought in gray and black. This trend for drab colors seems to be a global one. Such a lack of color would have been unthinkable in the 1970s and 1980s, when popular colors included yellow, orange, red, and even with stripes and prints. People wanted to get away from the conservative colors that were predominant in post-war Germany. They wanted to stand out.

Let there be colour.

They might not make much of an impact in the statistics, but sports cars have always been more colourful and creatively finished. Colours tend to be rather exotic: more than one colour, bright orange, or shimmering colours – anything goes. The goal is simple: to stand out at any price. Audi, for example, has expanded its colour chart for the R8 to allow buyers to individualize the auto body. This finishing process usually begins with a bath: The so-called cathodic dip painting primes the bodywork. This is followed by a filler paint to protect against stone chipping and UV rays, after which the base coat of colour pigments and effect materials is applied to give colour. A transparent lacquer is then applied as the top protective coat, which is just 0.1 to 0.2 millimetres thick. Audi has developed a special powder that is blasted onto the surface and roughens the clear lacquer to a depth of just a few thousandths of a millimetre. Light hitting the surface is then reflected by the individualized surface areas.

Revolutionary paint with nanotechnology.

Paint looks its best when it has been polished to perfection. Daily wear and tear, however, present a major challenge, with dirty roads and weather conditions diminishing the shine. Help is on its way. UltraTech International sent a Nissan Note, coated with “Ultra-Ever-Dry” nano paint onto a mogul slope riddled with deep potholes and mud holes. The special nano structure creates a protective layer of air between the paint and the environment, effectively repelling mud, rain, and other dirt from the surface. This means the cars doesn't have to go into the car wash very often, which would only dull the shine of the paint long-term anyway. But what about scratches caused by careless drivers or vandals? Leading paint manufacturers like Akzo Nobel, BASF Coatings AG and DuPont Performance Coatings are feverishly searching for the answer. Modern paints already contain nano particles to boost scratch resistance. If damage causes the surface structure to tear, micro ampoules in the paint would also tear, releasing a substance that seals up the scratches in the paint. However, this mechanism has not been successfully reproduced. Researchers at Saarland University have a solution: Corn-based paint. The beaded structure of the molecules enable them to converge within days, repeatedly sealing up scratches and tears. Perhaps one day the paint will even be able to notify drivers if there's a bubble or scratch in the paintwork, or even complain about bird droppings or tree gum.

Camouflage for your car?

Trends come and go. But while changing your wardrobe or redecorating your apartment is easy, changing the colour of your car is not. If you do want to make a change, however, you don’t have to opt for expensive repainting. “Car wrapping” is a rapidly growing industry. Traditionally used to wrap German taxies in ivory and police cars in olive green, wrapping has become increasingly popular among end customers. Providers like Foliocar and other certified workshops offer a second skin for your car in camouflage, black and yellow follow-me car style, and even checkerboard pattern.

But getting back to painting: Graffiti artist René Turrek has developed a special kind of paint that can change colour over and over again. Applied using only spray cans and markers, the paint magically changes colour or can even reveal a hidden design or image when it comes into contact with water. The trick also works when the paint is subjected to a change in temperature. Turrek got the idea from the legendary Matchbox cars that change colour under running water.

Instant colour transformation.

But what if you could change the colour of the paint simply by pressing a button? If you think of a Ferrari, you'd probably picture a red one. The colour goes back to an old FIA rule that meant each country had to paint its Grand Prix racing cars a certain colour. The colour originally allocated to Germany was actually white, before it became silver – which gave rise to the name Silver Arrows. Advanced nanotechnology could easily put an end to this tradition: serious black for business one day; red the next, or even bright yellow for the weekend. Electrical impulses enable colour pigments to restructure themselves over and over. This changing light refraction makes it possible to transform the colour of the paint in a matter of seconds.
What about driving at night? No one can see the beautiful paintwork. Nissan has developed a solution, in which UV rays are absorbed during the day to give the paint a fluorescent finish for up to ten hours during the night. The Japanese carmaker benefits from the know-how gathered by start-up Pro-Teq Surfacing, creators of the “Starpath” concept of glow-in-the-dark paths. The process is the same as in fluorescent lamps – but with one key difference: no electricity is needed.

Solar cells on wheels.

Soon paint will even be able to generate its own power. It is quite possible that, in a few years, solar panels will look more like thin films or paints than the panels we see today containing silicon solar cells. This could have far-reaching implications: Millions of cars would become miniature power stations, helping to power themselves and releasing any excess power to the smart grid. Paint could have so many uses beyond its original purpose. In just a few years we could be choosing between paint with solar power and self-cleaning paint – naturally with an unlimited colour palette. When we buy a car in the future, we won’t just be asking about the look and feel and colour of the paint: we want to know what it can do for us.

Authors: Christian Geiss and Oliver Jesgulke