Friday, August 27, 2004

Little particles make cars, profits shine

By Mike Boyer
Enquirer staff writer

Keith Matthews, a professional detailer, waxes a car at International Motor Cars in Norwood with Eagle One Nano Wax.
(Meggan Booker/The Enquirer)
EVANSTON - Keith Matthews knows his car wax.

A car detailer at International Motor Car Co., 2111 Dana Ave., he puts a shine on two or three vehicles a day for the luxury-car dealership.

"Nanowax is the best thing I've used, and I've been doing this for 15 years,'' he said.

Eagle One Nanowax, produced by Ashland Inc.'s Lexington-based Valvoline unit, is easier to apply, leaves less residue and does a better job of handling swirls and defects in car finishes, he says.

Matthews is raving about one of the hottest new products in the nearly $70 million liquid car wax market.

Eagle One Nanowax is thought to be the first car wax developed with nanotechnology, basically working with particles no bigger than 1/75,000th the size of a human hair.

Nanotechnology is the latest buzz in high tech. The ability to manipulate such tiny particles is expected to revolutionize everything from electronics to medicine. A trade report last week estimated global spending on nanotechnology research would top $8.6 billion this year.

Fran Lockwood, Valvoline's senior vice president for technology, said the company used tiny particles of carnauba - derived from a Brazilian palm tree - and proprietary polishing particles to formulate Nanowax.

"What that allows us to do is deliver on the proposition of a very durable, deep shine wax without all the pain of application and removal that you typically associate with a premium wax,'' she said.

"Because of the (particle) size, we get great hiding of swirl marks and a deep shine. We've seen under the microscope very good filling of scratches,'' she said.

"Really what opened the nanoworld are new measurement techniques that allow us to see nano and manipulate nano. It's opened a world where people were able to characterize and measure it. Nano's been around forever, but we couldn't characterize it,'' she said.

She compares it to the impact of microbiology on medicine.

"Before, you couldn't see bacteria and viruses. They were there, but you had no way to see them and manipulate them,'' she said. "Now we can see them, we can figure out how to kill them.''

Doug Zalla, Eagle One vice president, won't disclose product sales, but he said the product - launched in January - has exceeded the company's expectations.

It's not cheap

Nanowax is pricey. It costs $9.99 a pint, including an applicator and buffing cloth, but that hasn't stopped detailers like Matthews and other car enthusiasts from embracing it.

Gary Ellison, detail manager for Kings Nissan in the Kings AutoMall, says he likes Nanowax because it doesn't leave the white powdery residue of paste waxes that can slow the waxing process.

Jeff Plummer, sales rep for KOI Automotive, the Eagle One distributor in the Tristate, says detailers are tough to impress.

"These guys are used to paying $20-to-$30 a gallon for wax. This stuff costs the equivalent of $80 a gallon. A detailer won't pay that unless it's the best thing available,'' Plummer said.

Right now Nanowax is available at major automotive retailers such as AutoZone, Advanced Automotive and Pep Boys in Greater Cincinnati. Marketing has focused on the car enthusiast who spends a lot of time and money on vehicles.

So many cars ...

But Valvoline is actively pursuing distribution through national chains. "We believe it can tap a broader market,'' Zalla said.

Lockwood said Valvoline is exploring other products using nanotechnology but she can't elaborate on them.

"It's an exciting new world. With this size control, you can do some things you couldn't do before,'' she said.


InsideChemical companies view nanotechnology as a way to overcome factors that have been squeezing the industry's profits. D2

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