PPG is huge with hues in the auto industry

One local company that will be all over the Pittsburgh International Auto Show won't have even have a booth.

Downtown-based coatings, chemicals and glass company PPG Industries has a huge presence in the automotive industry. Its colors cover everything from the new Dodge Dart to the Ford Fusion, the BMW 3 series and every car on display from Mini Cooper. Even that subtle matte black finish on the Mercedes Benz was created by PPG.

Every year, when the automakers are designing their new lines, the automotive team from PPG presents 70 colors that the car companies can use for new cars.

Jane Harrington, the manager of the color styling at PPG's plant in Troy, Mich., said her team develops the color palettes by watching styles and trends in other areas.

But the hottest new shades for couches or sweaters aren't the colors that wind up on cars. Ms. Harrington said car makers may look at the selection, then request further tweaking -- more of a metallic flake, for instance, so a car will sparkle.

At the moment, the trend is one that could liven up the nation's roads. "You're seeing a lot more color. A lot more manufacturers are using brighter, cleaner colors," she said.

Still, despite all of the innovations and new shadings that PPG offers, the top four colors on cars sold in 2011 were white, black, silver and gray, she said.

Even in those colors, Ms. Harrington said, there are an incredible number of variations, so that one black car may be very different from another black car.

PPG's roots in the automotive coating business can be traced to the time before automobiles.

The company stretches back to Peter and Fred Ditzler, carriage finishers from Pennsylvania who moved their business to Detroit and sold colored varnishes to Ford and Cadillac. In 1913, the Ditzlers sold the business to a group that had experience in the general paint business. That group developed a product called Ditz-Lac, a form of lacquer that replaced color varnishes.

PPG bought Ditzler Color Co. in 1928. In 1947, the Ditzler Color Division of the company was combined with another company that PPG acquired: Forbes Varnish Co., which had become an industrial coatings company during World War II.

While PPG is developing new colors for the auto industry, it also is developing new ways to cut the cost of applying those colors to the vehicles.

At a news conference at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month, PPG executives talked about recent innovations. The research-and-development team developed a low-bake paint so cars do not have to be heated to as high a temperature for the paint to adhere. That saves on energy costs.

That new coating can be applied in the company's Compact Paint System, which eliminates the need for a primer coat, thus eliminating the need for a primer booth and reducing the amount of space needed for auto manufacturers to paint cars.

Cynthia Neikamp, the company's senior vice president of automotive coatings, said there have been so many changes that now 40 percent of the division's sales come from products developed over the past four years.

The company does not break out the paint sales to automakers, but that division is part of PPG's Industrial Coatings segment that had $4.1 billion in sales last year.

PPG's electrocoat, invented in 1964, allows recessed areas of cars to be protected and, once it took off with manufacturers, has pretty much eliminated the sort of rust that took out fenders and doors in the 1960s and 1970s. The product was further refined with Enviro-Prime 7000, which gets into areas that are hard to reach and the interior surfaces of vehicles without leaving a lot of excess paint on a vehicle.

PPG's work with the auto industry isn't limited to the exterior paint.

While paint isn't a big weight factor at just 12 pounds per vehicle, Tom Kerr, vice president of the company's fiberglass division, said, his team is working with automakers to drop the pounds.

"We've got to find a way to lighten these vehicles. That's the best way to increase gas mileage," Mr. Kerr said. By incorporating fiberglass in place of steel, the weight of a car is reduced.

Ms. Neikamp said PPG also is working with tire manufacturers to lessen the rolling resistance, which will increase gas mileage.

Meanwhile, Richard Zoulek, the company's general manager of industrial coatings, said PPG coatings are on aluminium wheels, windshield wipers and some components of the engine.

And then there is the question of a quieter ride. PPG has been working to achieve that with an acoustic coating called Audioguard that dampens the noise and acts as a sound barrier.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.

First Published 2012-02-14 23:25:06