Tomorrow's cars will scrimp on fuel, envelop us in safety, guide
us to our destinations, impress us with intuitive features and
comfort us with ergonomics we can't believe we ever lived without.
But for all that, these evolutions will never shield us from one
of the most important questions a driver faces when choosing a car:
And more specifically, if current trends hold: Which shade of
In two separate surveys by major auto paint suppliers, silver
remains the most popular colour for new cars of all kinds in North
America, capturing 24 per cent of the overall market in 2006 by PPG
Industries' numbers; 19 per cent in that year according to DuPont.
It's the seventh year running for silver, an unusually long term
for a top hue.
But even the stateliest shade of grey is going through a
transformation that's indicative of future trendy car colours:
shifting, iridescent hues, which subtly change as you walk around
the car or see it in different light.
Put another way, that new Mercedes, resplendent as usual in
tried-and-true silver, may flash a hint of radiant blue or subtle
green as it whizzes by.
``You're going to see a colour, and you're going to do a
double-take,'' says Karen Surcina, colour marketing technology
manager for DuPont.
It's what's known as ``elaborate neutrals'' - blacks, whites and
silvers that are flecked with ``effect'' pigments to produce
Iridescent colours are a product of light diffraction, not
pigment. This means that minute surfaces - flecks of aluminum, mica
or synthetic materials - embedded in the paint split light into its
component parts, giving the illusion of depth or reflecting
different colours. Depending on the angle, the eye might see blue,
green, silver or otherwise.
The effect, in a word, is mesmerizing.
``Essentially it's because the human eye is fascinated by any
colour that seems to have an undulating movement, something that
appears to change,'' says colour consultant Leatrice Eisman, speaker
and author of several books on colour, including ``Color: Messages &
Meanings'' (Hand Books Press, 2006).
``There are some social anthropologists who have said one of the
reasons humans are so fascinated by this is that it reminds us of
water, which we can't live without,'' Eisman says. ``It seems like
quite a stretch, but we see it in other areas too: a seashell, an
oil slick in the street - it can be the most mundane thing, and yet
if the colour seems to move, our eyes go right for it.''
As DuPont and PPS prepare data from the 2007 model year to
present to carmakers this fall, the prevailing wisdom is that silver
will hang on to the top spot for a little while, anyway.
Eisman says silver's popularity is due largely to our obsession
with technology and gadgets. It is a reflection, she says, of the
dawning of the digital age.
``Silver was once in most people's minds associated with the word
'classic,' but people are now responding by saying it's
'high-tech,''' Eisman says.
That said, there's no market force more powerful than consumers'
perceptions of something as oversaturated or past its time. Eisman
uses the example of the mid-'90s, when the introduction of teal cars
put that odd colour front-and-centre, not only in parking lots, but
in fashion and design as well.
``That blue-green was really like, pow,'' she says. ``We hadn't
seen it since the early '80s, but it had taken a rest, and became
the car du jour. But then what happens is, it gets so identifiable
with a certain time period that people say, 'Oh, I don't want that.'
Obviously, red sports cars are going to be here forever, but it's
possible that silver will soon start to look a little tired.''
Indeed, both Surcina and Jane Harrington, PPG's manager of colour
styling for its automotive coatings, say new colours are coming into
``Blues and browns, especially,'' Harrington says. ``Brown's a
colour family that hasn't really been in the marketplace since the
1970s, and it looks really fresh right now.''
Some colours sell well in certain types of vehicles, but not
others: Blue is already a colour of importance, depending on the
car. ``For vans, it's something like 21 per cent of the market
share,'' Harrington says. ``And on SUV's, it's more like nine per
In both surveys, the second most popular colour was generally
white, which remains the default for the chronically nondescript,
``It's the same reason people paint their walls white,'' Eisman
says. ``It goes with everything. Most consumers see it as not really
making a statement.''
Eisman figures that about 10 per cent of the population ``want
heads to turn. ... But that's not the majority of the population.''
Even if the majority doesn't want a sparkling, luminescent red,
today's consumer definitely wants the option: Harrington said a
survey at last year's auto show in Detroit showed that 68 per cent
of potential car buyers would be more likely to choose one vehicle
over another if the manufacturer offered a greater range of colour
choices. Similarly, Surcina says DuPont's market surveys have shown
that roughly 40 per cent of consumers will change their car choice
if they can't get the colour they want.
With so much at stake, it behooves carmakers to put as much
thought into colour options as they do styling and drivetrain
features. So what's on the long-term horizon? Both Surcina and
Harrington say we can expect an eye-popping level of vibrancy in the
next decade or so.
``We're going to see a lot of colour coming back in,'' Surcina
says, ``and it will be more bold and bright, with this hue shift.
You can already see a lot of it on the road now.''