Can you please tell us how you got into the automotive business in the first place?
I got into the automotive industry more than 20 years ago, of which more than 15 years were in automotive coatings. Axalta is my second job and I am now based in Singapore. Prior to that, I was with DuPont since 2002 where I held a variety of positions in Asia Pacific including Sales Director Asia Pacific and Business Director Asia Pacific (excluding China and Japan), Business Manager Industrial Coatings Asia Pacific, Strategic Planning Manager for Asia Pacific, and Sales Manager in India.
Can you tell us more about your major products for the automotive market?
Today, Axalta is the number one global supplier in the refinish segment supporting body shops and the vehicle repair industry. Axalta is one of the top suppliers to light vehicle OEMs and is the number one global coatings supplier to heavy duty truck and bus manufacturers.
Apart from automotive, Axalta also supplies coating solutions to other industry sectors such as industrials. Axalta is the number two supplier in electrical insulation sector, in Industrial E- Coat and is the number two powder provider for industrial customers.
All of Axalta’s key brands for the automotive refinish market –Standox, Spies Hecker, Cromax, Challenger, Duxone, and Nason,– have been launched in 18 countries in the MENA region.
Axalta is also in the frontline in developing and delivering waterborne or water-based coatings to help customers reduce environmentally harmful substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and contribute to a more sustainable environment.
In addition, Axalta’s systems employ fast-drying automotive finish, reducing drying times, applying fewer layers of coating, helping customers to be more productive, save money, reduce wastage, while giving them a wide range of colors and enabling them to be more sustainable in the long term.
How are Axalta’s products different from those offered by other companies?
Axalta carries on its vision in our innovation: to provide high quality, high performance, durable and aesthetically beautiful coatings that are sustainable to use and apply.
The global coating market is moving towards increasingly sustainable coating products, like our waterborne liquid products and powder brands. Application technologies are also becoming increasingly sustainable. For OEMs, Axalta’s Eco-Concept, 2-Wet Monocoat and 3-Wet systems reduce plant footprints by eliminating drying ovens and enable curing at lower temperatures which reduces energy use. In body shops, our products like Cromax are productivity focused to move cars through the shop more quickly.
OEM designs are also moving towards increasingly sustainable models. We are seeing an increased use of lightweight materials such as aluminum, plastics and carbon fiber which help reduce fuel use and thus reduce CO2 emissions. These novel substrates require Axalta to develop coatings that will adhere and perform and look identical to our products formulated for traditional substrates. That’s just one of the ways we deliver technology and innovation to our customers.
Another differentiator is Axalta’s color expertise, including an extensive database of more than 4 million color formulations, which is one of the world’s largest; more than 60 years in producing the Global Automotive Color Popularity Report; and providing color tools (such as Acquire Quantum EFX) and software for precise color matching and color mixing.
Axalta is here and ready to help the automotive industry in the Middle East-North African market to embrace a sustainable growth model.
What are the most popular colors in the region and why? Are the color preferences here different from those in other markets?
The Middle East region imports cars from different countries around the world and car brands are produced in different factories around the world. This combination creates the need for a robust system that is very capable in accurate color matching.
White, black and silver are the most dominants colors which is not far different from global automotive color trends. Every year, for over 60 years, Axalta has published the annual Global Automotive Color Popularity Report to spot popular colors around the globe. Axalta’s 2017 Global Automotive Color Popularity Report names white and shades of white (pearl white and solid white) as the most popular color in the world, followed by black (solid black and effect black) and grey in third place.
Color matching is much more complicated than one imagines because it depends on other factors. One brand of white can have more than 30 shades of white and Axalta has developed one of the world’s most extensive database of more than 4 million color formulations to find the right mix of color.
What is the outlook for the automotive coatings market in the Middle East, in general, both in the short-term and the long-term? Saudi Arabia recently made it legal for women to drive and own cars in the kingdom. Will you be strengthening your presence in the Saudi market as an outcome of this change?
With a population of than 400 million people, and growing, the Middle East is one of the fast-growing regions in the world and youth forms a big portion. Car pool will continue to grow rapidly despite the slow rate witnessed in the past few years. And in Saudi Arabia, with women allowed to own cars and drive, these are all positive market signs for Axalta.
The wider Middle East car sales market is predicted to grow twice as fast as markets in North America and Western Europe between 2012 and 2022 according to Carmudi, a regional automotive publication.
Elsewhere, forecasts of annual light vehicle sales among the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the largest economic body in the Middle East, estimate a surge of 25 percent to nearly 1.75 million new car sales due to strong economic growth, private sector activity, low interest rates and government spending.
Traditionally, the paint market has been closely linked to GDP growth. In developed economies, paint markets follow GDP trends whereas in growing economies, the growth is even faster. For automotive refinish business, growth rate in car parc is critical. Accident rates also have an impact on the collision repair sector, ie, body shops.
Axalta engages automotive OEMs and refinish customers through customer-focused programs such as product-knowledge training, practical training in applying our coatings and consultancy. We are well-positioned to support Middle East’s growing automotive market and is confident of its future. Which is why we recently set up our own regional office and Automotive Refinish Training Center, both in Dubai.
How is the UAE market different from other markets in the region and the other emerging markets? Are there any challenges that are specific to the UAE market?
We see UAE is rather advanced in its usage of waterborne (water-based) refinish coatings, driven by acumen and environmentally-conscientious corporations in the absence of legislation from the region. As such, Axalta wants to play its role because being sustainable and sustainable practices are in our business DNA. We plan to help customers embrace more the use of more sustainable coatings and to deploy more sustainable spraying processes.
We are also highly aware that customer requirements are higher in UAE in terms of service required and technical assistance. They wish for a production system to enhance their speed in delivering quality refinish services. Axalta has consultancy services in which we work closely with customers to resolve coating and spraying issues and challenges.
Which companies do you see as Axalta’s main competitors here in the automotive coatings sector?
Axalta believes that we are in a unique position to service a range of customers, not only in automotive, but also in industrials, construction and others with a comprehensive range of coatings to meet every need. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some stories about Axalta so you can see how unique Axalta is as a global leading coating company. Axalta has more than 150 years’ history in coatings. Axalta’s first coatings were developed in Europe in 1866 for horse-drawn carriages. As cars emerged as the leading form of personal transportation in the 20th century, Axalta’s Duco lacquers revolutionized the application of coatings with the first spray-applied, fast-drying automotive finish. The new technology cut paint-drying times from days to hours and offered customers a range of new color choices.
Axalta opened its regional office and auto refinish training center in Dubai in 2017. Looking back, how far has the company come in the past two years? What kind of training services does the center provide and what difference has it made on the services offered by your customers?
Axalta is the first global coating company to set up its automotive Refinish Training Center (RTC) in 2017 Both of these Axalta facilities and the investments that go with them are to demonstrate our commitment to the region and importantly to be closer to customers. The facilities take customers’ confidence to another level through our services. In turn, car-owners (end consumers) get better after-sales services from automotive brands. This creates a win-win environment.
Through our RTC, we have the ability to interact with more than 900 personnel who visited the RTC. The visitors, who are also our customers, have given us excellent and useful market feedback on what are the local needs which will go into helping us to keep enhancing our deliverables from a product and training requirements.
We have conducted 45 training sessions since the opening of RTC, the 47th such center run directly by Axalta. This means about 600 were trained on the proper usage of our coating solutions and systems.
Our training progams at RTC comprise theoretical and hands-on training to empower customers on the knowledge and usage of Axalta products to optimize usage. Practical training encompasses all the steps starting with the surface preparation to spraying techniques to the finished panel in state-of-the-art facilities. In addition, the training center also supports customers in trouble shooting related to spraying and application of coating. We also have customers who want tailor-made training for their staff, which we also provide.
Consumers in the UAE generally retain their vehicles for a shorter period before they switch to another model. What impact does this have on the market?
The logical impact is faster new car sales growth in the UAE, which is being witnessed and will be seen to some extent in the future. Another impact is on the repair and body shop sector in the region because as used cars changed hands, the new owners are likely to want a brand new coat of paint. Axalta has comprehensive refinish coating systems and an excellent color formulation database as well as color matching and mixing tools to enable the body shop sector, from independent small to medium sized body shops, to meet the requirements of second-hand car customers.
How much importance does Axalta give to research and development and how has this reflected in your product line?
Research and development is the cornerstone of Axalta’s success and future. Axalta invests approximately four percent of our annual global sales revenue into technology development and innovation each year, which was approximately USD 180 million in 2017. Our technology and innovation group is spearheaded at four global Technology Centers – the new Global Innovation Center in Philadelphia in US which was opened this year, Mt. Clemens in Michigan, US, Wuppertal in Germany, supporting Axalta operations in MENA, across Europe and the Americas, and in Shanghai, China, supporting Asia-Pacific, and is also close enough to support MENA, when needed. These four global Technology Centers from a dedicated network which means we work as one to resolve and meet evolving customer needs while continually evaluating ways to improve existing products.
Axalta currently has a portfolio of more than 1,800 granted patents and pending patent applications reflecting the technical strength of more than 150 years in the coatings industry. Today, we deploy a dynamic team of more than 1,200 research fellows, scientists and engineers.
Can you tell us more about any innovative products that Axalta has launched recently for the auto sector?
As said earlier, sustainability is at the core of Axalta’s business. We practice this concept through sustainable manufacturing, product development and application, innovation and community service. We have developed and continue to invest in waterborne coating technologies which help customers to reduce their environmental footprint by reducing VOCs, energy consumption and investment.
Also, as mentioned earlier, OEM designs are moving to the use of lightweight materials such as aluminum, plastics and carbon fiber which help reduce fuel use and thus reduce CO2 emissions. These novel substrates require Axalta to develop coatings that will adhere and perform and look identical to our products formulated for traditional substrates. That’s just one of the ways we deliver technology and innovation to our customers.
How important is the commercial vehicle market in the region and what benefits do you offer to such customers?
Axalta is a global market leader in commercial vehicles and we offer a range of products to suit their specific needs. The commercial vehicle sector encompasses heavy duty vehicles such as trucks, agricultural machinery, buses, trains and so on.
Our coatings are created to withstand ruggedness and stress that these vehicles go through such as weatherability, corrosion, dust, rust, freezing-cold and high temperatures to be long lasting and durable.
On the wider coatings industry side, the regional construction industry continues to thrive – despite lower oil prices negatively affecting GCC nations investment capacity. There are abundant opportunities in the Middle East in the construction sector.
If there is one thing that you would like to share with our readers, what would that be?
Axalta has the coating leadership and growth commitment to help the Middle East and Emerging Markets regions to grow. Axalta is committed to delivering industry-leading refinish and industrial products and training services to our customers. Part of this delivery is our position as an environmentally-responsible company which enables our customers to adopt sustainable practices and solutions through training and the use of more sustainable coating solutions and application systems. This creates a win-win for our customers, OEMs and refinish alike in every sector we serve, and for Axalta.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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