A common complaint in today's automotive press and often among buyers
is that all cars these days kind of look the same.
The push for aerodynamic designs to meet fuel efficiency standards,
the need to abide by increasingly stringent safety regulations, and
just the ever growing popularity of the family crossover are all
reasons given as to why the shapes of cars seem harder and harder to
tell apart. But another area where there is a great deal of
similarity in today's automotive fleet is in color to the point where
some auto enthusiasts complain car colors are boring.
There actually is something to this argument.
There are a few colors that are extremely popular, both in the United
States and around the world, and they are, well, not terribly
colorful. We found in our latest report, which analyzed the old two
thousand nineteen year, all the different regions as well as North
America. We found that the color white is still the dominant color.
It's very popular in every region, most popular in the
Asia-Pacific region, but also trending very strongly in
Europe, Middle East, Africa, South America, as well as North America.
What happened to the pink Cadillacs, the bright red, green and yellow
muscle cars, the racing stripes, they are still out there on sports
cars, halo vehicles and limited editions.
But they are vastly outnumbered by sober conservative whites, blacks,
silvers and grays.
So why are these a chromatic colors or colors that lack color so
popular? It has to do with practicality, human psychology and
technology. And people in the car coatings business say car colors
are not really that boring at all.
Coatings have become ever more sophisticated and coatings makers can
do a lot more with less within just one color type, such as white,
for example, companies can now achieve a great range of shades and
effects not possible before and which you might not at first notice.
Looking around the world, it is hard not to notice that a few car
colors do seem to dominate the color.
White, for example, is painted on 39 percent of cars around the
world, then black with gray and silver, following behind the most
popular non neutral color, i.e.
one that isn't simply white, black or some shade of gray or silver is
blue. So why what is it about these colors that makes them so
popular? Why isn't there a greater degree of variation?
Part of it, say industry analysts, is practicality.
First, all of those colors white, black, gray and silver are
available in pretty much every segment of vehicle, as people say, of
clothing. Those colors go with anything, no matter the shape or size
of the vehicle. They work well and they don't go out of style.
That matters because cars are expensive.
This might be the era of fast fashion where consumers can update
their wardrobes every few months as colors and designs change.
But the average new vehicle in the United States is somewhere around
35000 dollars, and cars are among the biggest single expenses a
person is likely to make in their lifetime.
Even if someone leases a vehicle, they are liable to hold on to it
for at least three years.
Cars also take a long time to develop and bring to market automotive
colors. In general, when you compare them to other industries, they
tend to be on the conservative side.
It's because the turnaround time or engineering a color position is
three to five years as opposed to 18 months or 24 months in many
other industries. And we also have to go through a lot
of sophisticated engineering to dial in the color position.
And once inside the car, people tend to keep the car for a longer
period of time.
Another reason industry analysts cite could be resale value.
Customers might be less inclined to buy a bold or eccentric color for
a car they might want to get rid of in a few years.
That eggplant colored sports car might appeal to too narrow a buyer
base and affect the asking price.
The availability of neutral colors such as white, black, gray or
silver can also make a big difference, especially in a country like
America, where customers are used to going to an auto dealership and
driving a new car home on the same day.
It is a bit of a chicken and egg problem, dealers might be less
likely to stock bright greens, oranges or purples because those are
statistically less likely to sell, which makes cars in those colors
less immediately available for customers that want them and so on.
Having said that, car coatings companies are quick to point out that
they will make a car in any color an automaker wants.
And car manufacturers do sometimes offer a wide range of colors for
vehicles, especially certain kinds.
There are limited edition colors which are often featured on Halo
vehicles or more specialty vehicles.
Ford comes out with limited edition colors on the Mustang, for
example, Toyota offers a limited edition color for every model year
on the Tacoma to red pickup truck vehicles such as the new Ford
Bronco, the Chevrolet Colorado 02, the BMW M Series, sports sedans
and many others all come with signature colors that are often bold
and unique. But many of these are low volume vehicles that appeal to
specific types of customers and can sometimes carry higher price tags
than an automaker's more popular products.
There are also some psychological reasons why people drift toward
neutral colors when choosing colors for cars or trying to understand
their popularity color designers look around the world.
What are the colors on the other objects in the home or the
workplace? What do people associate with certain types of items?
As we look at what's happening in pop culture, what we see in
installations and art museums, we read a lot.
We we read not only things that are directly related to color, but we
also read more abstract things, because color being a very
psychological and a very emotional thing, we have to really connect
with what people as individuals are looking for, what they're
connecting with, what societies are connecting with, and how
technology from other areas, from other aspects is actually
delivering to that.
This is affected car color choice.
A big factor in recent years is the rise of electronics.
The reason why whites and the chromatics are so popular with the car
is they seem to work very, very well in terms
of the way it's appropriate for the car.
And by that I mean a car is very high technology.
And if you think about technology in other industries, for example,
you tend to see a lot of Silber's or a lot of grays.
And recently, with the popularity of certain
technology firms and the color white, the color white was also viewed
as a technology. Colors, colors can evoke certain feelings about an
object and in a way need to reflect its features.
This is very evident in the case of an emerging class of vehicles,
There are colors that are especially popular among EVs, especially
white and blue. The popularity of blue for EVs is quite notable,
given the fact that it is a chromatic color, not a neutral one.
Blue seems to be a very popular color.
A lot of people like it.
And for the automotive market, you can do a slight silver, a very
chromatic blue, a very dark navy blue.
And all of those ranges would be very appropriate for different
And I think with the market, when they first started to come out into
the marketplace, a few of the OEMs offered a specific light blue and
those vehicles. And I think that equated with consumers and and blue
being associated with electric vehicles.
The popularity of a few neutral car color choices obscures some
important history about how far car coatings have come and how much
choice there is available to customers.
Today, in the early days of the automotive industry, the palette of
available colors was pretty limited and paints were fragile.
The pioneering Henry Ford, who brought industrialized manufacturing
techniques to the fledgling car business, is reputed to have said
that a customer could have Ford's Model T in any color as long as it
was black. The story is only partly true.
The Model T was available in several colors for at least part of its
lifetime, though for several years the car could in fact only be
bought in black.
This was because black paint dried the fastest and was therefore best
suited for the rapid automotive production methods Ford was trying to
implement to meet burgeoning demand as the automotive industry grew.
However, Cotting technologies became more sophisticated and that
expanded the range of colors carmakers could offer.
New primers helped protect against rust, new top coat resins kept
colors from fading and added shine.
So in the 80s, clear coats started to become available in the
automotive industry and also a process called electric coating, which
means the whole vehicle would get coated with a primer surface
that would create a protective layer.
And then on top of that, we put paint and then a clear coat effect.
Coatings made from metal, glass and minerals such as maika could give
paint jobs a kind of sparkle.
Paint technology is improved to the point where you can take metallic
flake pigments, which tend to be kind of large, and we can get those
metallic flake pigments to align very much in a parallel fashion.
Paint on the car body is about half the width of a human hair.
It's not a lot of space to work with.
And if we can get a good Perello orientation of these metal flakes,
what designers found is that they can introduce not only color
direction but also texture into a coating.
Techniques like these allowed paint makers to widen the possible
palette of colors and effects achievable.
So once there really might have only been at most a few varieties of
any given color.
But now, for example, the white that might have dominated in the
middle of the 20th century, say a bleached hospital white seen on
emergency or service vehicles, is no longer the only choice.
Now there is a mind boggling range of possibilities.
You can add a little bit of blue to make a white look cooler, which
is popular for cars trying to achieve a futuristic or high tech
effect. You can have a yellower or creamier white that evokes luxury
using coatings, flakes and subtle shifts in hue.
A wide range of possibilities is achieved, but each OEM has a
different version of white, a different version of of those neutral
colors that supports their brand strategy.
They're very specific about what those colors look like.
And I know I have friends of mine and they're just like, Oh, isn't
gray gray? And it's like not look at this gray versus this gray.
This has a blue kassis, has a brown cast, has a high sparkle.
This has a silky sparkle.
Colors do come into fashion and then lose popularity in cars over
time. Green was a popular color in the 1990s, accounting for
somewhere around 15 or 16 percent of all cars.
But now the number of green cars is more in the single digits,
according to BASF research.
But Jane Harrington of PBG said she has been seeing green on an
increasing number of SUVs and the color is another one that is
associated with nature, biology and eco friendliness, suggesting it
could come back into fashion.
Companies are also looking to the future, both PGE and BASF told CNBC
they are developing car coatings that can easily be noticed by
technology used on autonomous vehicles.
That part of the market has a way to go before it becomes widely
adopted, but it is already something researchers are thinking about.
A development like that could completely change the market.
Once again, the car colors on the road in 50 years could be
completely different from the ones we see today.