Ford Mitigates Paint Shortages

FORD COLOR SPECIALISTS ARE HARD at work conjuring up the palette for the '15 model year, and the paint-additive Xirallic will be on the menu, a chief designer says. Xirallic, which adds a metallic, glittery look to paint, is a core ingredient in five Ford colors, including Tuxedo Black and Royal Red. Other auto makers also use the ingredient in their paints. The additive caused a stir in the auto

FORD COLOR SPECIALISTS ARE HARD at work conjuring up the palette for the '15 model year, and the paint-additive Xirallic will be on the menu, a chief designer says.

Xirallic, which adds a metallic, glittery look to paint, is a core ingredient in five Ford colors, including Tuxedo Black and Royal Red. Other auto makers also use the ingredient in their paints.

The additive caused a stir in the auto industry when supplies were interrupted following the March 11 Japanese earthquake, which damaged the lone facility producing the substance.

Ford and others were forced to scramble to find alternative paints, and dealers were told not to order vehicles with colors containing Xirallic.

Merck, a German chemical and pharmaceutical company, is the sole producer of the additive. In May, Merck announced resumption of normal operations at the Onahama, Japan, plant that produces Xirallic, and regular output returned in June.

Susan Swek, Ford chief designer-color and materials, says the auto maker has been assured there will be an ample supply of Xirallic going forward.

“The whole industry was affected, so (Merck) knows they need to get up and running with more than one location, and they're doing that,” she tells Ward's.

In a statement, Peter Halas, head of the Pigments & Cosmetics business unit at Merck, says an alternative production site for Xirallic will be established in Germany by the end of this year.

“Our priority is to ensure as soon as possible an uninterrupted supply of Xirallic pigments to our customers around the world,” he says.

Swek says during the shortage her team worked to develop an additive that produces a similar glittery effect, but “couldn't achieve it.”

Typically, she says, Ford “looks at its supply chain and makes sure if there is a disaster, there's a robust enough system in place where we can shift (sources),” noting this was a “unique situation.”

Swek is mum on what '15 model-year colors will feature Xirallic, but says the palette is coming together, with about 10 exterior choices being selected for each vehicle in Ford's lineup.

Color, she says, is the ultimate selling point, citing studies that show customers will leave a dealership if it doesn't have a vehicle in a particular hue.

Ford's “cornerstone colors” are reds and blues, while so-called “trend colors” range from a “Blue Candy” to “Lime Squeeze,” which has proven popular on the Fiesta B-car, she says.

Trend colors change every couple of years, while the cornerstone colors typically are kept for about a decade.

Silver remains the most popular color around the globe, although consumers in specific regions have different preferences, Swek says.

For example, customers in Japan, Mexico and India prefer white vehicles, while those in the Czech Republic have an affinity for blue.

Most U.S. and European customers prefer the classics — white, black, silver and gray.

Swek says the hardest part of developing colors for the '15 model year is trying to predict what will be stylish in the future.

For inspiration, she looks to trends in fashion, home furnishings and technology.

The auto maker's color team not only selects particular shades but also works to find new paint technologies and coating processes.

“There's a lot of investment at plants and paint suppliers for pigments and spray processes to get the best colors we can on products,” Swek says.

“We work with our materials and engineering counterparts so we as designers can come up with a great idea and make sure it's the best.

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