Anyone buying a new car is faced with a long list of optional extras.  While sat-nav and climate controlled seats are usually high on consumers’ wish lists, acoustic side glass and rain repellent coating may not be.  Yet such products are becoming increasingly important, delivering greater functionality and adding a further growth dimension to automotive glazing sales.  Matthew Beecham goes window shopping.


“One of the things that we are continuing to see is the pressure on the supply base to develop the product,” said Pete Dishart, global product marketing manager, PPG Industries


“We are also seeing a lot more focus by the OEMs on profitability.  That is a very good thing for the industry in the long run.  The critical element for these added-value glazing products is:  how do we get to a situation where these types of products are adding to the OEMs’ profits?  In the past, the primary focus has been on system cost reduction:  how do you use these products to get a lower cost on the vehicle as a whole but get to drive profitability?  But what we are seeing is more focus on using these products to sell more vehicles.  In other words, differentiate the vehicles in order to have a better overall vehicle that the customer is going to want to buy.  Certainly glazing and a lot of the added value products can attribute to that.”


According to JD Power and Associates, laminated side glass and solar performance glass tied in a recent study as the ‘most desirable’ automotive technologies behind run-flat tyres, with nearly seven of every eight consumers surveyed saying they would pay as much as US$350 extra for optional laminated side glazing.  For some time, the European carmakers have led the way in terms of fitting laminated side glass, starting in the premium car segment. 


Indeed, a number of European carmakers have already taken the decision to use 100% laminated side glass, such as Citroën (on the C6), Peugeot (407 and 607), Jaguar (XJ) and Mercedes-Benz (S-class). “The main difference, however, between the US and Europe is that the European carmakers tend to offer laminated side glazing as optional equipment, not as standard,” said Michel van Russelt, market development director, Solutia Inc,


The first North American vehicle with laminated side windows was launched in 2002 with market demand expected to catch up with that of Europe by 2008. “We are still seeing an increasing number of launches of laminated side glass in North America,” said Rob Vandal, director of advanced product development, Guardian Automotive Products


“However, we are also seeing some [carmakers] doing a slight amount of de-contenting due to continued cost pressures.   The biggest new introduction of laminated side glass that we have seen recently is on the Saturn Aura.” GM’s Saturn Aura saloon features laminated acoustic front door glass, a healthy dose of sound deadening, and laminated steel — dubbed Quiet Steel – which goes a long way toward cancelling unwanted road noise.


Jay Pyper, North American automotive market development director for Solutia Automotive, added:  “In North America, roughly 5-8% of all vehicles sold in the North American market have laminated front side glass. When you look at SUVs, I believe the total is in the 8-9% range which comes with laminated side glass – it is not an option but vehicles are sold with it as standard fitment. Now that the Dodge Ram pick-up truck features [laminated side glass as standard], that by itself means some 15% of the pick-up trucks sold in North America have laminated front side glass.”


As glazing plays an increasing role in the overall design, automakers are looking for other ways to use glass on other areas of the body. This has led to increased research into how sunroofs can be used more effectively as a design feature. The sunroof has subsequently emerged as a key styling feature and can in some cases replace the majority of the roof panel. 


“We see more and more panoramic sunroofs appearing on vehicles in Europe,” said Al Kivisto, global product marketing manager, PPG Industries. “From a design and differentiation aspect, we feel that trend will continue to grow. In North America, however, interest still lags Europe.  Although most North American OEMs are monitoring the market, it is still not clear how fast this market for large vehicle roofs will grow.  While drivers typically look for something which differentiates their next vehicle from the rest, the real issue is heat load. Although we believe we have a fix for that, we have yet to determine whether panoramic roofs will actually drive vehicle sales over here.”


Europe has also led the styling trends for advanced glass shapes, including panoramic windshields and large roof glazings, as well as moves toward colour tints such as blue glass to compliment vehicle design. Design trends point to still greater usage of glass in the future; tighter tolerances, yet deeper and more complex curves. Yet while the trend towards stronger, better-cut glass in vehicles is helping to narrow the vehicle’s vertical columns and uprights that frame windshields and side windows, manufacturers don’t see the complete elimination of these posts. 


“These columns will always remain there because, due to its brittle nature, glass will never be able to provide the same functionality,” said Bruno Pouillart, operational marketing manager, Saint-Gobain Sekurit.  “However, size and position of these columns may differ in future cars from what we know today, for example the Peugeot 908 RC.”  Peugeot used the 2006 Paris motor show to take the wraps off its 908 RC concept vehicle.  The modern, light-colored leather interior is futuristic without heading too deeply into Star Trek territory, and the car’s greenhouse is expansive, featuring a panoramic windshield and glass roof.


European carmakers have also led the adoption of making windshields as large as possible. “We’re seeing a lot of larger windshields on vehicles these days in Europe,” said Giovanni Occhionorelli, marketing manager, AGC Automotive Europe.  “It is really being led by the French OEMs, notably PSA Peugeot Citroën.  There are basically two trends.  First, the windshield is expanding into the roof, i.e. cielo.  Second, it is expanding on the side of the vehicle, i.e. panoramic.  We see future generation windshields featuring both designs.”


Although we are seeing more and more panoramic roofs on vehicles, this presents a challenge for vehicle designers to provide adequate shading from the sun for the driver and vehicle occupants.  On the flipside, however, this presents opportunities for switchable glazing specialists.  Since the mid-1960s, Research Frontiers Inc has been developing suspended particle control technology for controlling light in vehicles and other applications such as aerospace,, architecture, marine, eyewear, and displays. 


A thin film is sandwiched inside the glass that conducts a low voltage of electricity. As a current passes through it, masses of suspended particles join together or disperse, allowing more or less light to pass through. It means that you can simply turn a dial to block out the light, eliminating the need for a sliding shade panel altogether.
“There are multiple challenges when you increase the size of the roof glazing, not least issues relating to shading and solar heat gain,” said Michael R LaPointe, vice president, marketing, Research Frontiers Inc. “It certainly presents an opportunity for Spd-Smart [suspended particle device] glass or polycarbonate glazings.  Major trends in automotive focus on increasing the proportion of vehicle glass or polycarbonate. 


There is an opportunity for switchable glazing which allows the driver to control the light, heat and glare entering the vehicle. Most of the major OEMs have had an active programme with SPD for the past several years, involving some in-depth studies, evaluations and market testing.  Most are now at the later stage of development.  They are aware of the price points that our licensees are looking at.  Some may elect to introduce a switchable glazing only on the premium end models initially.  Others may not, believing that the advantages outweigh any potential incremental cost.”


As these added-value features appear on new vehicles, there are knock-on opportunities for the aftermarket. “Over the last few years a number of value-added features have appeared in new vehicles, driven by the increased competitiveness in the OE market,” said Cliff Dawson, vice president, glass operations, Automotive Components Holdings (formerly known as Visteon Glass Operations).  “These products – such as laminated side glass, heated windshields, and acoustic windshields — provide a huge opportunity for the aftermarket, particularly a brand like Carlite. These glazing products typically feature a logo that indicates the added-value feature. 


In the event of a breakage, the pressure is on the motorist to re-establish the vehicle to its original condition. In situations where we can trademark or copyright those added-value products, we can actually increase our share of the market by shutting out people who do not have the legal right to make those products.”


Yet at the end of the day, aren’t these added value glazing products actually adding cost at a time when automakers are looking for cuts?  Are these features really just solutions looking for problems? “In a lot of cases there are problems out there that need solutions,” added Dishart. “If you look at the overall trend in terms of quiet vehicles and improving acoustics, that is an area where clearly there is a problem in need of a solution.  You may say that that has always been out there but I think the difference is that the expectations of consumers is continually growing and evolving in acquiring a quieter vehicle.  One benchmark vehicle for these types of technologies is the Saturn Aura.  It is a relatively low-price vehicle with acoustic windshield and acoustic front laminated door glass.  It uses the acoustic PVB in both the front doors and the windshield.  I think that is a clear indication of the value of the technology that is coming down to a level for the mass market.” 


The skill for the new car salesman is surely to sell the benefits of each option to the customer.  But he needs a little support.  Solutia Automotive and Peugeot recently joined forces to educate dealers about the benefits brought to the new Peugeot 407 and 407SW by laminated glass. As a result of the alliance, all Peugeot’s dealers have received specially-designed posters, side window stickers, samples for placing on dashboards and leaflets outlining the advantages of laminated glass, as well as a DVD reference for dealers.  


It is clear that glazing continues to play an important part in vehicle design, providing a combination of aesthetic, functional and structural properties.  The need for improved passenger comfort, increased functionality and lower vehicle manufacturer assembly costs means that glazing systems with infra-red and ultra-violet inhibiting properties, integrated antennas, de-misting and de-icing capabilities and ease of fitting, via encapsulation for example, are increasingly required by the OEMs. It’s a window of opportunity for the auto glass industry.


Matthew Beecham


See also: US: Giugiaro Mustang’s glass roof turns heads


Research link: Global market review of automotive glazing systems – forecasts to 2012