Ford has shown off its 'paint shop of the future' becoming, it said, the first automaker to paint vehicles using the industry's newest paint technology - a three-wet, high solids-based system.

After three years of development and more than a year of in-plant testing, the new system was recently introduced on a fleet of Econoline vans for U-Haul and will be on US highways later this summer.

The Ford paint technology uses a high solids-based paint formulation that produces fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon dioxide (CO2s) emissions than do water-borne and medium solids-based paints currently used in the industry. This formulation contains more colour pigment and, therefore, requires less paint to cover a vehicle.

Furthermore, the new formulation allows three layers of wet paint to be applied one on top of another and baked once, eliminating two paint ovens and resulting in a smaller, more energy-efficient paint shop.

Water-borne paint requires air conditioning to get the water out of the paint, which means using more energy and releasing more CO2s from the paint shop. Removing water from the paint is necessary to get a quality paint job.

According to Ford's validation tests high solids-based paint provides better long-term resistance to chips and scratches than does water-borne paint.

Approximately 400 U-Haul utility vans will be monitored over the next year as Ford collects real-world data on its technology.

"It's a large vehicle," said Michael Vandelinder, chief engineer for global paint engineering, explaining why U-Haul vans are being used. "The amount of paint needed to cover the vehicles will allow Ford engineers the opportunity to confirm laboratory testing results and validate a high quality paint job."