In 1909 Henry Ford offered his Model T with a windshield as an option. Today's bigger and more spherical windscreens offer far more than shield the wind from the car's occupants while on the move, reports Matthew Beecham.

Complex shaped glass
Vehicle makers are demanding more and more of their glass suppliers these days. Small cars with highly raked windscreens to give the illusion for more space inside equate to larger areas of complex shaped glass. "The trend is toward complex shapes to aid vehicle styling," said Christian Guindon, commercial and marketing director of Splintex. "On high-end cars, glazing is typically more conservative while on the mid- and small-range, glazing tends to be more distinctive. Glass used to be cylindrical [bent in one direction] but as the actual shape becomes more complex it is now becoming common to see it being spherical [bent in two directions]. Peter Watters, Pilkington's global marketing manager for OE glass, added: "One of the biggest areas we have been working on is the technology to shape the glass. The trick is to be able to bend it repeatedly and effectively." The Citroen C3 is reckoned to have one of the most complex windscreens on a mass-produced car.

The quantity of glass used in vehicle manufacture is also increasing—by around 15% in the last decade. A mid-range saloon carries around 100lb of glass today, compared to around 85lb in 1990. That's about 5% of the total weight of the average car. The growth of MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles, or minivans), particularly mini-MPVs such as the Peugeot 107 (Sesame), Fiat Punto MPV, Opel Meriva and Renault Clio Ellipse is one of the main factors driving the increase in the total glazing area of vehicles.

Overall, an average saloon carries around 4-m² of side and rear glass, whereas a minivan may typically carry around 7.5 square metres of glass, of which the windscreen accounts for 1.5 square metres. Saint Gobain Sekurit points out that the 1969 model year VW Beetle was equipped with around 1.5-m² of glazing whereas the 2002 model year version has some 4-m² of glass due to the highly raked front and rear windows.

The value-added element offered by the glassmakers also continues to grow, e.g. solar control properties, reducing solar heat gain, de-icing and de-misting capabilities, integrated antennas for radio, TV, cell phone and navigation, integrated rain sensors, and coatings for improved visibility. Some manufacturers cite the back window as an example where the value has doubled since 1980 thanks to the addition of a defroster, solar control and antenna. It may also need to be moulded into a more complex shape or encapsulated into a plastic surround. Over the last 20 years, solar controlled glass has been especially popular. Here's a round-up of some glazing trends.

Rain repellent glazing
During the 1990s one the problems that the glass industry focussed on was the need for manual intervention by the driver to activate the wipers. As a result, two solutions entered production. The first was an optical sensor that automatically starts the wipers when moisture is detected. The other was rain repellant glazing, positioned as a safety feature. 'Slick' glass helps the rain run off more easily, helping the wipers to do their job. Windscreens have been developed that can eradicate the need for wipers altogether. PPG has developed its so-called Aquapel glass treatment, a rain repellent treatment for auto glass that improves drivers' visibility. PPG claims that its Aquapel treatment repels rain and eases the removal of snow, sleet and ice from the windscreen. An independent study by the University of Michigan's Transportation research Institute suggested that the new treatment can improve drivers' visual sharpness by up to 34% over an untreated windscreen. Paul Eichenberg, marketing manager for PPG's vehicle glass operations, told just-auto: "In October 2003, you will see a press release of the first adoption in North America of water repellent glazing. I can't tell you which OEM it is but we see adoption taking place for the side lights initially. [Going forward,] it will be a nice to have feature and an important part of the OEM's brand image. We don't expect to see it on the entry cars, only the luxury vehicles."

Rain repellent glazing is especially popular in Japan, with at least 30% of all new cars fitted with the coating. Pilkington's tie-up with Nippon Sheet Glass has helped it develop its hydrophobic coating technologies, increasing the useful life of the coatings to five years on the windscreen. "We have been heavily promoting that across Europe and North America," Peter Watters, Pilkington's global marketing manager for OE glass, told just-auto. "Although we have significant interest, we can't see it talking off in the near future. [In five years,] I think there will be increased penetration. People will see the benefit. But I think it will be a niche product."

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Laminated glass
Other trends include functional layers such as laminated side glass and dimming glass to control the heat build-up inside the vehicle and heated windscreens. Europe is currently leading the way with the adoption of laminated side-glazings for increased vehicle security. Industry forecasts that laminated side-glazing will be offered on 25% of all models in Western Europe by 2005. Over 1 million cars in Europe now have laminated side windows, mainly upmarket models, but use of the glass is spreading to family cars such as the Audi A4.

The main benefits of the glass are its resistance to smashing by vandals, its better sound insulation from the outside world, and its greater safety in an accident (it prevents occupants from being ejected from the car). Laminated glass has long been used in vehicle windscreens, but the increased incidence of smash-and-grab crime in particular has boosted demand. But demand is not just coming from the volume car makers. Solutia report strong interest from the French emergency services for their vehicles, too. Vandals in some suburban areas of France habitually throw stones at fire brigade vehicles as they respond to a call. They also attempt to steal equipment while the crew extinguish the fire. The French and German police are also showing interest in laminated side glazing for their vehicles. "It shows how seriously they are taking the issue," said Michel van Russelt, sales and marketing manager based in Brussels for Solutia. From Washington, Greg Wilson, PR manager for Solutia told just-auto: "We've heard that the Las Vegas Police department wrecks one car per day! Likewise, there is a lot more vandalism done to police cars. It's not that they want to break in and steal something, it's just that some folks in some inner cities tend to show great antagonism towards the police. We've heard that an Impala may cost around $17,000 but typically loaded up with $17,000 worth of police equipment. So, there is as much incentive to protect what is in the vehicle as the vehicle itself."

The first North American vehicle with laminated side windows was launched in 2002. Take-up in North America is slower than in Europe, with Ford's Lincoln Navigator and Aviator the first to use it. However, a report by J.D. Power & Associates reveals that consumers listed laminated glass as the second most desired element among the emerging automotive technologies, behind run-flat tyres.

Jay Pyper, North American market development director for Solutia Automotive based in Washington told us: "The rapid growth is occurring right now. The North American OEMs have quotes out there now for many new platforms for laminated side glass. They are not committed yet so I hate to count my chickens before they hatch but it is looking very promising for growth here in North America."

The early adopters of laminated side glazing in North America were the luxury SUVs. Glass manufacturers expect to see that adoption trickling across into the mainstream SUV market and then the luxury sedan market. PPG claims to have 'the majority' of the laminated side glazing market in North America, thanks to its thin-glass technology and existing capacity.

Other early adopters of laminated side glazing in North America were the Crown Victoria and the Grand Marquis. The reason why these two vehicles went with laminated is two-fold, said Paul Eichenberg, marketing manager for PPG's vehicle glass operations: "First, they have a large fleet of police vehicles and they want smash and grab protection. Also, they want a rear window that someone in the back seat could not then smash with one swift blow. The other benefit is that 70% of all Crown Victoria models are sold in Florida. And most are sold to retirees, of whom some wear hearing aids. And those hearing aids amplify the noise outside the vehicle. So by providing laminated glass, these elderly people with hearing aids actually get a much quieter vehicle space, which is easier for them to hold a conversation in that vehicle."

At a time when some American vehicle makers are decontenting their models, laminated glass as an add-on standard feature is bucking the trend. Given that a typical sedan will cost the carmakers an extra $100 for side laminated glazing system, it demonstrates the premium some carmakers will pay to achieve a 5 - 8 decibel improvement inside the cabin. Paul Eichenberg added: "In North America, laminated side lights is going to be the most significant change we will see in our market place."

Solar-controlled glass
In Europe, nearly every new car is fitted with solar-controlled glass. The emerging trend over the last five years, however, is to fit infra-red reflective solar controlled glass. That means a special coating applied either to the glass or slipped in-between the glass as an interlayer to absorb the infrared energy. It can be metallic or non-metallic. Going forward, manufacturers expect to see 'steady growth'.

In the US, however, market demand for infra-red reflective solar controlled glass is said to be not as strong. With bigger engines consuming cheaper gasoline relative to Europe, air conditioning systems tend to cope with the heat loading inside the car.

Industry concerns
One of the major concerns among vehicle glazing manufacturers in Europe is the increasing number of low quality imports being distributed across Europe. "A patented copy windscreen from China could seriously compromise the structural rigidity of the vehicle," said Roger Thomas, vice president of European aftermarket operations, Pilkington Automotive. "In a rollover crash, the strength of the roof can be compromised." Manufacturers estimate that the 'legitimate players' serving Europe account for 75% of the total glass distributed through the aftermarket. And of that remaining volume, 40 - 50% could be suspect specification. Manufacturers report a rising tide of imports from China and Turkey.

In the €5.5 billion global OE auto-glazing sector, another big issue facing glassmaker's is how to suppress cost and weight but add to the differentiation of the vehicle. Although introducing complex and intricate glazing designs makes a new car stand out from the rest, it also makes the manufacturing process slow and expensive. Shedding weight is also a major problem, especially for the small and lower-end cars. While thinner glass can adversely affect sound insulation, thick glass impacts on carmakers' aims to improve fuel economy and meet emissions targets. Glassmaker profits, meanwhile, are being continually squeezed. Faced with annual price cuts, they must achieve higher productivity levels and fewer defects per million parts. The value-added element to car glazing coupled with productivity efficiencies has meant that glassmakers have, to some extent, been able to stem the slide in profits.

Going forward, vehicle glazing continues to out grow the vehicle production market. Pilkington expect to see vehicle build worldwide growing at a rate of 2.5% annually through this deacde whereas demand for automotive glazing will rise by 5% per annum. The unit value of automotive glazing is also rising, says Pilkington, reflecting the introduction of more high-tech products, such as solar control glass and security glass, complex shapes and the incorporation of added-value as the carmakers seek fully integrated glazing modules. Ryan Pike, automotive marketing manager for Guardian Industries, told just-auto: "Tempered side lights are about as close to a commodity as you can get now. They don't fetch much money. It's hard to get a return on your capital to manufacture the parts. [But] when you have a significant step change, for example, laminated side lights then you open yourself up to a lot of additional opportunity for value-add for the customer and the OEs. So we all do a little better in life."