It seems the colors people most prefer on their vehicles are not really colors at all.
White has been hot of late. Since 2011, it has been the most popular color in North America, according to PPG Industries’ North America color popularity chart. In 2015, white beat black 23 to 19 percent, followed by gray at 17 percent and silver at 15 percent.
In other words, neutral colors occupied the first four spots in PPG’s chart.
“From about 2000-2010 silver was the most popular color,” says Jane Harrington, manager of color styling for PPG Automotive OEM Coatings in Troy, Mich. PPG bills itself as the world’s largest automotive paint and coatings company.
White’s popularity in North America pales in comparison to other parts of the world. In the Asia-Pacific region, white accounted for 44 percent of vehicles built, dwarfing second-place black at 16 percent. In South America, white beat silver 36 to 31 percent, and in Europe, white outshone black 31 to 18 percent.
Harrington says her colleagues in China told her white is hot there.
“White is a fashionable, trendy color,” she says. “It makes a smaller car look larger. It stays clean longer.”
Once you start to break color preferences by segment, it’s not a black or white thing.
Take sports cars, for instance. North American buyers preferred solid black (20 percent) with red finishing second (18 percent) and white in third. Obviously sports car buyers are not dissuaded by the adage that red cars get the most speeding tickets, which is not true by the way.
White is no longer just white. Pearl metallic shades are making their mark in segments including luxury cars and SUVs.
Harrington says auto shows are great places to spot color trends.
“Right now underneath the neutral colors, you’re starting to see an increase in blues. At auto shows the last two years a lot of the reveals automakers have done have been in blue, which I think is a big statement.”
Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, says the auto industry has been a leader in creating complex colors and finishes that can be deceiving at first glance.
“Car colors have a way of catching people’s eye,” she says. “There’s more light refraction and reflection. It also renders a color more interesting. You walk around the car depending on how the light is landing on it. You might call it a green car or blue car, but when you look at it you can see undertones. It’s like viewing a peacock feather or mallard duck.”