“I’ve noticed that two thirds or more of these cars are a dull color: silver, gray, tan, white, etc.,” wrote Sally, who admits that her family owns a silver car and a white car. “There are a few bright ones out there — red, navy, yellow — but these are much rarer. I can’t help but speculate as to why. Seems like a colorful car would be a bigger draw both from the dealer and at resale. Do you have any ideas on this subject?”
Well, until recently, opting for a brighter color would have meant going against the tide. DuPont, a maker of automotive coatings, has been tracking vehicle color popularity since 1953. On the company’s 2011 color popularity survey, the top four most common colors of North American vehicles were white (23 percent), black (18 percent), silver (16 percent) and gray (13 percent).
It hasn’t always been this way. “In the ’50s, there was more color,” said Nancy Lockhart, DuPont’s color marketing manager. “There was a lot of green, teals, aquas, blues, those types of colors. . . . Silver and white were not popular colors back then. Of course, today is the complete opposite.”
DuPont’s surveys, based on vehicle build data, show that the 1970s saw the rise of brown, yellow and orange as top colors. The 1980s added beige to the mix, along with blue. White started its ascendancy in the 1990s. (Red was popular for a while, too, and green had a brief run at the charts.) In the 2000s, white and silver started their domination.
But they aren’t your father’s white and silver. Nancy said whites, silvers and blacks became popular after advances in paint technology allowed them to be sparkly, flaked and tinted. White was pearlescent. Silver looked like liquid metal.
The “color space” is influenced by many factors. Nancy said the austerity of the last few years has been reflected in the somber palettes. Also, since luxury models typically come in black and silver, people associate those colors with quality, even in lower-priced vehicles. I suppose manufacturers have been making a lot of white/black/gray because that’s what they think consumers want. And it’s certainly what consumers have been buying.
Nancy thinks a shake-up may be in the works. “People are ready to branch out and look at something different,” she said. There are some eye-watering colors on the market these days. While those tones may not take the top spot, they can get people into the showroom, Nancy said.
Of course, even boring colors need interesting names. Perusing the color options of car manufacturers is like diving into a thesaurus, albeit one with some pretty strict rules. For example, all automotive whites must be related to the Earth’s polar regions: Ice White (Volvo C70), Winter Frost (Nissan Maxima), Arctic White (Chevy Corvette), Summit White (Chevy Camaro), Blizzard Pearl (Toyota Prius).
Reds must conjure up a blast furnace or hell itself: Hot Lava (Scion FRS), Volcano Red Metallic (Audi TT), Torch Red (Corvette), Inferno Orange Metallic (Camaro), Sizzling Crimson Mica (Toyota Highlander).
Some colors make me hungry. I think the Infiniti G37’s Malbec Black would pair nicely with the Nissan Cube’s Bitter Chocolate.
Some make me want to travel: Bali Blue (Cube), Tuscan Sun (Maxima), Barcelona Red Metallic (Prius).
Some just leave me confused. What color is lightning? Tesla has Lightning Green; Mini has Lightning Blue. Is lightning followed by Tesla’s Thunder Gray or by Volkswagen’s Tornado Red? And is Lexus’s Ultrasonic Blue Mica audible only to dogs?
I’m amazed by the restraint Hyundai shows in its Elantra colors. To paraphrase that old song, black is Black, gray is Gray — just Black and just Gray, not Obsidian and Grecian Formula.
This is more than made up for in the colors of Hyundai’s Veloster coupe. The Veloster’s red is called Boston Red, a name that stumped me until I saw the other colors: Marathon Blue, Triathlon Gray, Ironman Silver, Ultra Black, Century White, Vitamin C, 26.2 Yellow, Electrolyte Green.
There’s an extreme sports theme going on here. All that’s missing is Rhabdomyolysis Brown.
I asked Nancy, the DuPont color expert, what color car she had. “Uh-oh,” she laughed. “Solid white.”