IAA 2009 – Perfect Surface Finishes Gaining in Importance!
There has been much debate over the past few months about what would become of the European automotive industry after the "Cash for Clunkers" program ended. Is the giant faced with impending collapse? Will sales figures for automotive OEMs continue to slump in upcoming months? Opinions on this topic differ widely, often marked by pessimism, occasionally by uncertainty, although there is naturally an overtone of hope.
In times of serious uncertainty, companies and end customers tend to scrutinize their investments, with longer, more in-depth and critical deliberations than in "fat years". It remains to be seen which trend will prevail in the next several months. Entire sectors of the economy lying between automotive OEMs and end customers are worried about orders, revenues, return on investment, jobs and their futures. From development firms to suppliers, service companies and distributors, there is a general atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety about the future.
After a phase of reorganization, nearly every company has now repositioned and readied itself for a new start. Unnecessary ballast has been jettisoned, old structures upended and new ones set up; now we can embark on an era in which business will be immeasurably tougher than in previous decades. Manners will become harsher, requirements more stringent and the competition tougher in light of underutilized capacities.
Particularly in these times, it is especially important for companies to put forth unique selling propositions and distinguish themselves by continual and rapid advanced development, a high level of flexibility and adaptability. Development will also play a crucial role in the surface finishing industry, which has always been closely aligned with the automotive industry.
That is why our industry is following these momentous events in the automotive industry with marked interest and anticipation. What is the general mood? What trends are unfolding? What impact will these trends have on the surface finishing industry?
The IAA 2009 International Motor Show, which was held September 17-27, 2009 in Frankfurt / Main, clearly showcased energy-saving, electric and hybrid vehicles. Lightweight materials such as carbon and other highly resistant and durable plastics took center stage again.
Unchanged, however, is the attention paid to surfaces, and they continue to grow in diversity: thousands of color variants, low-gloss, shiny, brushed, blasted or highly polished, powder-coated, electroplated, plasma, carbon, etc. The bandwidth of possibilities and subvariants has grown even more in recent years.
Along with innovative and in some cases very attractive color coatings, decorative upgrading of the base material continues to play a significant role. The situation is similar to the comparison between a gold-plated brass ring and a ring made of solid gold. In styling components on vehicles, this basic philosophical question arises again and again: "Upgrade a cheap base material by adding a coating" or "Upgrade a high-end base material by suitable surface finishing"? Besides aesthetic and physical considerations, of course economy plays a decisive role too. And frequently designers and aesthetes are in conflict with financial controllers, and marketing specialists with purchasing agents.
At the IAA, however, this trend was clearly evident: High-end vehicles produced in Europe sell better with high-end base materials, and they definitely draw greater excitement and attention. Elaborately brushed stainless steel design elements or highly polished aluminum wheels complement the image of upper mid-class and premium segment vehicles. It appears strange if a vehicle with an end price in excess of 100,000 Euros is equipped with styling elements that have a simple powder coating. This is not the right solution for either the vehicle’s aesthetics or its image.
Many European producers offer features with high-end components at least as an option, which customers across the globe naturally expect from a certain vehicle price upward.
That is precisely why it is especially important for the surface finishing industry to exploit this opportunity for success in the economic upturn phase by offering contagiously good quality and perfect finishing processes on high-end materials. By definition, added value achieved by excellent surface composition on high-end materials is impressive.
Ultimately, there is also no longer any reason for dispute. In the end, the willingness of end customers to reach deeper into their pockets for excellent quality and exceptional styling even convinces financial controllers and purchasing agents.
Exhibits presented at the IAA leave the impression that things can actually only get better. Let us all do our part to attain this goal!
by Dirk Gather,
Contributing Editor MFN and General Manager of GZO GmbH, Germany