Thursday, July 15, 2010

Guest Post: What does your car color say about you?

Marie Brady is an architectural colorist based in Oakland, CA.  She has a background education in interior design and is a member of the IACC-NA. Her website is and a great blog.

What does your car color say about you?
By Marie Brady

We put so much thought and effort into our color choices for our homes and wardrobes.

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One choice that is not often on our radar until it's buying time is our car color preferences. Just as in color marketing and trending for fashion, household goods and other retail items, automotive color palettes evolve and shift yearly. The car industry is kept on it's feet guessing what we will want next.
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Ford Motor Research has shown that 39% of consumers will leave a dealership if they don't see the color of their choice. One of the biggest trend predictors for the automotive industry is DuPont.
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Each year they publish their Automotive Color Popularity Report. Car companies use this research as an authoritative baseline for color trending.

DuPont reports that as many as 40% of people would switch vehicle brands to get the color of their choice! Determining color palettes is not simple process. Designers seek to create harmonious interior and exterior color packages that will appeal to customers and enhance the design of the vehicle. GM rotates it's colors and tries to anticipate our color preferences each year. They introduce 3 new colors yearly while 3 colors get kicked out of production.
I recently was thrilled to find a stash of old 1960's Sherwin Williams/Ford car guides at an antique store. I wish I came across these little treasures more often! I purchased one from 1961 and one from 1967. It's startling to see how different the color palettes moved from the early to late 1960's! Experts say that the leading position of white in the 1960's and early 70's coincided with economic expansion.

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Later into the 70's, of course, we saw an explosion of earth tones.

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Did anyone have a parent driving around a lovely mustard yellow Corolla or avocado Plymouth?

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Boy did I want a LeCar in 1980 even though I was 3 years away from getting my license!

The 1980's was seen as a period of color while the 90's was an era of neutrals. Color started reappearing in the new millennium in a big way. For Asia, Europe and North America, silver is still the most popular color for cars. North America, says DuPont, is starting to lead the way in trends with rich shades of medium to deep metallic gray along with cooler reds and other high-chroma colors. This hints at a major shift of what's to come for automotive palettes.

Look at the change in color choices over the decades! Remember, paint technology evolves as well with each decade.

Color preferences become more distinct when you look at different lines of cars. White dominates 25% of the truck and SUV market.
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The higher end cars such as Mercedes-Benz tend towards more conservative colors such as silver, gray, black and white. The couture cars of the world, Rolls Royce and Bentley, are often custom ordered so it's not unusual for a customer to ask for a specific custom color. They will even match a fabric or color sample the customer provides.

Black is still perceived as upscale and classy so it is the most popular color in the luxury class. Yellows and blues are becoming quite sought after in sports and compact cars, while darker greens are receding. In fact blues across the board are gaining fans. For retro lovers, limited editions are advertised by some companies in unique palettes.
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This year Chevy Camaro is offering it's own version in the form of “Synergy Green” which hearkens back to their “Rally Green” color from it's first edition Camaro.

How much does color influence YOUR car buying decisions? Would you give up certain options to get the color of your choice?


Kelly Berg said...

Fun post, Marie! Packed with lots of info...and I love your antique store find. I didn't know that Sherwin Williams partnered with Ford!

I have to say, regarding car purchases, I look at the car itself first, the price tag, the reviews and the options...and THEN the color. Or at least that's what I THINK I'm doing. I'm not going to pretend that the colors on the lot don't affect me to some degree. But, as long as there are whites, silvers, blacks and reds of a car I'm interested in, I think I can choose one of those options.
Would it be fun to have my car color customized? Certainly...and if I had a huge car budget, I'd probably do it. Or if I could paint it myself, I'd explore some funkier options than black. But, honestly, the exterior of my car isn't seen by me unless it's sitting in the driveway, so I'm really not that concerned with it's exterior color.

Sometimes car color selection is like voting - you pick the lesser of all evils.

Little Red said...

Why do sedans come in such boring colors?

Elizabeth Brown said...

Are you planning to move to Detroit any time soon? They need you.

I'm always looking at the colors of cars.They seem to be getting more and more complex. I think Volkswagon has done a great job with their colors. I think of them as "indie" colors. My car is black. Because I am so sophistocated...HA!

Thank you Marie for your great researched post.

Sally@DivineDistractions said...

I've had a theory about car colors and the people who drive them for a long time...I'm infamous with family and friends. I will avoid driving around beige/brown cars. I think they are always overly cautious, are often driven by people who should have had their licenses yanked, and /or they are oblivious to anyone else on the road. Now go ahead and test my theory. Unless you are a brown car driver, you'll see what I mean! (I also avoid driving around cars that look like tennis shoes, but I'll save discussion for another day!)

Mona said...

Oh, cars, I love your shiny colors. I am a red car girl. I'm a Mercedes girl too, I've had 3 of them. The first one I bought used, it was wine colored. They had a slightly nicer one in another color, but I love red. The two I got new were wine colored and black. I really like the black one, it makes me feel elegant. If I had to buy a car right this minute and the only colors available were beige or gold, I'd take the bus!

Washington Cube said...

My brother and I used to get into lengthy debates about car color, including our favorite: what color car do birds dump on the most. His contention was: silver blue. I swore gun metal gray.

I don't know about now, but in the past, if you bought a car that was bright red or yellow, your insurance company would give you reduced rates, due to your high visibility.

I remember reading some study a few years back that reported "green" (it didn't cite which shade) was the least popular color for a car. I don't think that study was factoring in the more obvious oddball choices of violet, pink, orange or chartreuse.

That same study reported that wine color cars were hit the most. I had a burgundy car for a while, and it got smashed often enough by others until a mother, racing to get her child to school, broadsided it and totalled it.

I wonder how vunerable you are in any red/wine/burgundy car when up against someone who is color blind?

aneyefordetail said...

Love this post!

I've never owned either a black or a white car!

Is it true that red cars are followed/picked up by police more than other colors? Or is it that those who buy red tend to go faster on the road, and have bought red because they want to be noticed etc.?

I agree with Kelly: the color does, sort of, come last in my decision. If I like everything else about the car,t hen I'll make the colors available work for me! On the other hand, I don't buy a car very often: my present one is nine years old and going strong, and before that was ten years.
Hmmmm: guess I had better like the color if I live with it for so long!

Anonymous said...

I prefer cars that are lighter in color. Lemme tell ya why.

I live in The South where the summers are blazing hot and muggy. The cars are obviously affected by this heat & their interiors can literally burn your flesh on a bad day. When I was younger, I had a red car and then a blue car - both with dark interiors. Those cars got so hot that plastic would melt inside them. Seriously. I lost many tapes back in the early '90s because the interior of my car got so scorching hot! I had to wear gloves as I drove in the summer because the steering wheel was too hot to touch. It was awful.

Then I got my white car with a tan interior. What a difference! Yes, my car still gets warm, but not nearly as hot as my previous cars. Perhaps there are some subtle design elements that help in this department, but I feel sure that the light-reflecting abilities of the white exterior help enormously. My husband recently traded in his dark red car for a pearly white sports car and he's noticed a similar change. In previous summers with his red car, he often had to open the doors and let the hot air escape for 5 minutes or so before he'd drive anywhere. But with his white car, he's content to hop in and go, despite the fact that we're suffering from an unusually hot summer.

As long as I live in a warm climate, I'm sticking with light colored cars. Guess that says something about my personality!

Marie Brady said...

I had so much fun researching all of this even though it is outside the architecture/interior design world I usually write about. Kelly and I had a colleague in our seminar last fall who exclusively picks colors for companies such as Audi, BMW and all the Detroit firms. I found it fascinating to talk with her about the automotive industry and hear about how they approach color. I tend to choose more muted car colors(on the very rare occasion I get a new car) and love my charcoal gray used Audi I purchased last year. My husband wanted bright red! It's in stark contrast to the teal/seafoam green minivan I've been driving for the past decade. It had been a great deal 10 years ago but we didn't get a choice on the color.
Thanks for all of the great comments and feedback! OH, I love the VW colors too, Elizabeth!

DesignTies said...

I love colour and I love cars, so this post is right up my alley!! :-)

When I was growing up, my parents always bought second-hand cars, so there wasn't much choice about colour. They were navy blue, green (I remember a few avocado green ones!!), silver, cream, brown, white... not the most exciting colours.

My first two cars were second hand and both were silver. The first brand new car I bought was with my hubby in 2001. We had some specific criteria, and colour was down at the bottom of the list. But it just so happens that the Acura EL we ended up buying not only met all our criteria, but it also came in Vintage Plum -- a dark purple. Yay!! :-)

We currently have more cars than I'd like to admit to!! My favourite is our turquoise & silver smart car :-) It makes me happy just looking at it :-) The cool thing about smart cars is that you can choose the tridion colour (silver or black), the colour of the body panels, and the interior colour. And if you choose red panels and then decide you'd rather have yellow, you can take off the red panels and replace them with yellow panels. Not THAT'S smart!! ;-)


Anonymous said...

Great post! I think vehicle colors say a lot about a consumer and it makes an impact when making a vehicle purchase, check out this blog

Elizabeth Brown said...

Hi Marie,

Here is a fun follow-up to your great post. Just came through on Haft to Know this morning...

Sarah said...


Nicole Vickers said...
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Jolandi Kerstetter said...

Haha! True enough, colors can be the deciding factor whether a car owner will buy a car or not. The car that's most pleasing to the eye will be the most likely choice. But admittedly, black, silver, and white are still the dominant colors. :)

Angelica Emmanuel said...

Seeing the list of colors kinda makes you want to do a bit of customization work, heheh. A new paint job can give some pretty stunning results. Perhaps a shade of pink or something neon would look good. You can also think outside the box and do a bit of art - like the ones you'd see in car shows and whatnot! The possibilities are endless...