Carmakers go to matte

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DETROIT --- You can get a matte finish on your photos or your cell phone, so why not on your car?

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A Chevrolet Groove with non-glassy matte paint finish, right, along with Trax and Bert, is shown at the North American International Auto Show.  Associated Press
Associated Press
A Chevrolet Groove with non-glassy matte paint finish, right, along with Trax and Bert, is shown at the North American International Auto Show.

Dull was the new shiny at last month's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where at least eight cars from General Motors Corp., Volkswagen AG's Lamborghini and Audi divisions, and others sported a gleam-free matte finish. It's a trend likely to show up more as drivers seek to differentiate their vehicles.

Matte finish has been appearing on show cars for several years, usually as an accent color to highlight a specific feature such as fender flares. Now, the all-over matte finish, a trend that began with customizers, is going mainstream. Karen Surcina, the color technology and marketing manager of Dupont Automotive, said buyers should expect to see matte finishes on specialty or limited-run vehicles in the next two or three years.

"We expect that the matte trend would be more of a niche offering," she said.

It's easy to see why automakers are keen on the trend. Ed Welburn, GM's vice president for design, said nearly all automakers are experimenting with matte because it shows off the pure design of the car.

"It reduces the design to the very core elements because you're not influenced by the surroundings at all. You don't have the reflections of trees or buildings or the reflection of clouds or anything on the car because of the matte finish," Mr. Welburn said at the Detroit show, where GM's Hummer HX and Chevrolet Groove concepts had matte finishes.

Aaron Bragman, an auto industry analyst for the consulting company Global Insight, said a reason matte finishes are taking off is that young drivers, who are used to flat finishes on their phones and laptops, no longer equate shininess with luxury.

Because matte is a clear finish, it can go on over any paint color, from the gray-green of the Hummer HX to the robin's egg blue of the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640 Coupe. Lamborghini, which made its first foray into matte last year with the metallic-gray $1.4 million Reventon super car, is highlighting the sharp lines of its Gallardo Spyder with a matte brown paint.

Mercedes-Benz introduced its small sport utility concept, the GLK Freeside, in a pearl white matte in Detroit, while Chrysler's Jeep Renegade turned heads with its bright-green matte.

Automakers have long shied away from matte finishes because of their inherent difficulties. Jane Harrington, the market manager for color styling for automotive paint supplier PPG Industries, said low-gloss finishes can take on a shiny look with washing, and it's also harder to conceal the lines from repairs.

"You would not believe how difficult it is to do a matte finish in production," Mr. Welburn said. "Every time you take it through the car wash, the buffers are starting to buff it back up and it starts to get shiny there. It's easy to paint, but it's not easy to keep it matte."

Ms. Harrington and Ms. Surcina, of Dupont, say their companies have countered those flaws. Peter Horbury, Ford Motor Co.'s executive design director for the Americas, said the technology has improved so dramatically in the past few years that Ford is seriously exploring matte finishes.

As automakers grow closer to parity in features, styling is becoming a critical differentiator.

"The trend is toward more personalization, which to different consumer groups means different things," Ms. Surcina said.

NOT SO FLASHY

A number of concept cars are being covered with a low-gloss matte finish over a variety of colors, signaling a matte trend that could arrive at dealerships soon. Here were some cars sporting matte finishes at last month's Detroit auto show:


- Audi R8 V-12 TDI, a concept sports car


- Chevrolet Groove, a concept subcompact car


- Hummer HX, a concept short-bed truck


- Jeep Renegade, a concept diesel-electric car


- Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, a super car displayed in a dark-brown matte that is now available


- Lamborghini Murcielago, a super car displayed in a robin's egg blue matte that is now available


- Mazda Furai, a concept ethanol-capable sports car


- Mercedes-Benz GLK Freeside, a concept small sport utility vehicle.


-- Associated Press

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