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Silver still on top
Sorry if this is a repost.
Top 10 car colors for 2005
Wednesday January 19, 6:00 am ET
10 car colors for 2005
Color % of sales
Source: Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power and Associates (2004 fourth- quarter sales)
The hottest car color? Silver is coolest when it comes to American car buyers.
"It just looks great on pretty much any body style," says Susan Lampinen, chief designer of color and material design for Ford Motor Co.
It's the runaway favorite with consumers across the board, from family sedans to sport utility vehicles.
Even in some sports cars, if silver isn't first choice, it's probably a not-too-distant second. The color conveys a clean, mechanical image that appeals to consumers and mirrors the technology that dominates modern life.
"People are becoming more aware of design," says Teresa Spafford, lead designer for Mazda North American Operations. "Our cell phones, our computers, our furniture, our home decor accessories -- everything has some sort of metallic accent or detail or element of metal."
For 2005 vehicles, silver accounts for 24.1 percent of sales, according to statistics compiled by Power Information Network, a division of J.D. Power and Associates. The next runner-up: black, with 16.7 percent.
"Silver really shapes cars the best," says Ron Will, manager of product planning and design for Subaru of America, Inc. "With dark colors, it's difficult to see the shape. Whites don't do it. Solids don't do it. You need metallic or pearlescent in a lighter color. That's why I think silver works the best."
It's also practical. Silver, like a lot of lighter colors, hides dirt.
So how long will the consumer love affair with silver cars continue?
"This has been an enduring trend for the last three or four years," says Margaret Hackstedde, director of product design for color and trim for the Chrysler Group. "We're not anticipating it will change overnight."
But other experts believe silver could be losing its appeal.
"We're actually seeing it stabilizing," says Chris Webb, exterior color and trim designer for GM North America.
"I would say it's starting to decline a bit," adds Cynthia Leighton, product planner for color materials and finishes with Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc. According to the company's recent market research in Los Angeles, "Silver is not the No. 1 choice for future buyers," she says.
Next up? Many auto makers are having good luck with shades that incorporate silver with a little bit of color -- ice blues, celery greens, and even warmer, golden-toned hues.
Others believe that greys -- deeper, darker metallics -- will eclipse the lighter silvery shades. "Grey offers more dimensions, from warm to cool," says Leighton. "It's a fresh look and an alternative to silver."
And blue is gaining fast. "There is a whole trend in blue and purple," says Webb. Of the 21 new shades his company is currently developing, "at least half are blue or have some evidence of blue in them."
Looking into the future, car colors will still be "fairly conservative," says Will.
"We're not going with brights except for our sports cars," he says. Instead, look for colors with subtle tints, like rich blacks that tend toward green.
Size and price
When it comes to car color, size matters. "Smaller cars you tend to be able to do in brighter colors," says Spafford. But on an SUV, "It's a lot of color, so you have to be aware of how much color you are putting on the road," she says.
And as SUV designers marry aspects from cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles, colors are also becoming less distinct, says Webb. "Because the line has blurred as to what the vehicle is, it has blurred when it comes to color."
SUV buyers are turning to "more sophisticated, indefinable colors," says Spafford. "Not a true blue or true red or true orange. Off. A mixture of something."
As SUVs evolve from an off-road alternative to the family vehicle, expect to see them mirror the softer, more sophisticated colors of high-priced sedans, says Will. Manufacturers are "trying to make the SUVs look very luxurious and high-end."
Sometimes, the particular brand or model will dictate a particular color or palette -- like the jewel tones popular on the Mini Coopers, the brights on Volkswagen's Beetle or the traditional dark green that's become the signature color for the Jeep brand.
In sports cars or even sportier models, "People are willing to take a chance with a brighter color," says Leighton. Brighter blues, reds, yellows are a hit. But black and silver tie for the lead, each accounting for 23.5 percent of sales, according to Power stats.
One big hit: Xirallic paints, which contain flakes of metal that catch the light. "It really sparkles," Webb says. "So when customers walk into the dealership, these colors will grab their attention."
Price impacts color choices, too. While many makers find that entry-level buyers will experiment with color, they tend to get more practical as the price of the vehicle goes up. For 2005 full-sized sedans, beige inched out silver by less than 1 percent, according to Power stats.
In 2005 luxury cars, black leads silver by one-third of 1 percent, Power numbers revealed.
"When a customer is spending $60,000 or $70,000 on a car, they're going to be a little more conservative," says Spafford.
Shifting out of neutral
Some makers believe that real color is making a comeback. The star? "Blue is the biggest color moving forward," Webb says.
Orange is also making an appearance. Hues from terra cottas to brighter sunburst shades are popular for several makers.
"Blue is still a fairly important color," says Hackstedde. "Same as yellow and orange -- they are your impact colors right now." And red "is still a very classic traditional automobile color," she says.
Another impulse that's driving the color quest: the desire for individuality.
"All the rules that used to exist are being thrown out," says Webb. Truck buyers used to stick to black, white, silver, beige and dark shades of blue, green and red. "Now you're seeing orange, yellow," he says. "The customer wants something different than other people."
But look for the return of brown, says Webb. Traditionally a very difficult color for cars, look for "elegant" shades in some of the high end 2007 and 2008 models, he says.
No matter what they are driving, people "want their cars to be more luxurious," says Will. And that extends to the color. As the paint technology keeps improving, mid- and lower-market consumers will have access to paint options -- such as pearlescent colors -- that were once only available on higher-end vehicles.
"Technology keeps moving and bringing the price down," Will says.
It's a small world after all
So what does all this silver, grey and neutral say about the consumer mindset?
"Some people say that when the economy's low, people buy more vanilla-type colors," Spafford says. "But on the other hand, if they have money to make a purchase, they may want something that will pick them up. You can flip a coin either side."
But buyers are getting more observant when it comes to colors. In 2003, Ford jazzed up the red on its 2003 Ford Explorer, adding compounds that gave the color more depth and sparkle, says Lampinen. Red shot from the eighth-most-popular choice to the second.
Consumers devour books, magazines and TV shows about design. And that has spilled over into their automotive choices.
"We have a much more design-savvy consumer now and they are more picky," Spafford says.
And car colors are going global.
"The world is a lot smaller," says Webb. When he compares palettes for his company's colors in various parts of the world, "almost three quarters are identical," he says. "It really shows how people are aware what's going on globally and are really sensitive to their colors right now."
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