Shielding vehicle finishes against stones, gravel, sand, scratches, bug residue, bird droppings, acid rain, winter road salt and other flying objects, paint protection films are clearly stretching out to become a lucrative aftermarket sales option.
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Commonly called PPF and also known as “clear bras,” the product is sometimes still referred to as “helicopter tape” based on its origins during the Vietnam War when the U.S. military asked 3M to develop a protective coating for whirling chopper blades that were stirring up damaging sand particles. Among the early civilian adopters were racing teams seeking to maintain the gleam of their colorful paint schemes under the punishment of debris-strewn track surfaces.
Over the years PPF has since become thinner, sturdier, easier to apply and less likely to yellow, attracting the attention of numerous manufacturers along with assorted mergers and acquisitions.
“There’s been an evolution in the product over the years. It’s a category that is experiencing rapid growth,” says Jack Mundy, vice president of the International Window Film Association (IWFA), which also has members covering the PPF segment.
He estimates the value of the U.S. PPF marketplace at $150 million and $15 million in Canada.
“Painted surfaces are costing more, so people are protecting their investment,” Mundy explains. “It started as high-end, but now it’s across the spectrum of vehicles.”
Much of the manufacturer marketing is targeted at new-car dealerships offering it as an add-on at signing. “Some are doing it themselves, and some have subcontracting relationships with independent installers,” says Mundy, president of Ener-Gard, a North American distributor based in Ontario, Canada.
About 5 percent of the new cars rolling out of dealer showrooms are being wrapped with PPF, according to Casey Flores, editor of Window Film Magazine. “People are becoming more aware of the product,” he points out, “and I’m seeing it becoming more mainstream – it’s catching on quite fast.”