Bling has faded to black when it comes to dressing up the wheels of new cars and trucks to attract performance enthusiasts.
Automakers say buyers now crave black wheels as a fashion statement on new vehicles, leaving chrome behind.
Ford says its best-selling vehicle for the 2012 model year has been a white F-150 pickup with black wheels. The preferred version of Ford’s Flex crossover: silver with black wheels.
Mini introduced black wheels as a special-order item, but they have proved so popular that it made them a general option, says Mini’s Nathalie Bauters. Just 8% of the buyers of the 2010 Mini Cooper S opted for black wheels; for this year’s version of the same model, 39% are choosing them.
Though the issue may sound frivolous, alloy wheel options are big business for automakers. They can charge hundreds of dollars more for custom wheels on vehicles, boosting profits.
Getting preferences right and trying to create excitement around models is important.
“Wheels make or break (the look of) a car,” says Susan Swek, Ford Motor’s chief designer for color and materials.
A decade ago, rappers and other style mavens embraced costly, giant silver wheels. At the height of the fad, some even added spinning inserts that kept turning when the car stopped.
Now, black is in, seen as the color of speed and stealth. “Black is a little hotter, because it can evoke mystery or performance,” Swek says.
How automakers are responding:
Toyota. Toyota’s youth division, Scion, is offering its latest limited-edition tC coupe — Release 8.0 — with an “Absolute Red” body and glossy 18-inch black wheels.
General Motors. Chevrolet introduced black wheels on the Corvette first and now also offers them on the Camaro. The Camaro 1LE, a track-ready version, comes only with black wheels. “Black wheels are becoming racer wheels, designating track-focused performance,” says Chevy spokesman Monte Doran.
Chrysler Group. Jeep created the “Altitude” editions of several models after a naming contest, and all have black wheels. “It’s been a huge success,” says Jeep chief Jim Morrison. He says his own wife asked him to procure a set of black Altitude wheels to retrofit her Jeep Wrangler.
Ford. For 2013, Ford is expanding the roster of vehicles that offer black wheels to include Mustang, Focus, Edge Sport, Taurus SHO and Explorer Sport. “Everyone wants their ‘ride’ to represent them. This is just the newest way to do it,” says Melvin Betancourt, exterior design manager.
Nissan. The “Midnight Edition” of the Juke crossover was announced earlier this month, complete with 17-inch black wheels. The goal was to give the Juke model “aggressive styling.”
The trend seems to have caught the attention of auto designers and customizers about five years ago after black wheels appeared on an otherwise white pair of Lamborghinis, says Nissan Design America color designer Francois Farion.
Now, “we see black wheels everywhere on trucks,” he says. “It was only a matter of time when we offered it standard, and it’s happening right now.”
Myles Kovacs, founder of Dub magazine, which chronicles trends in custom wheels, says he thinks the trend goes back further, to 2003. “It came from the motorcycle industry.”
Some buyers aren’t waiting for automakers to offer black wheels.
Mark Etheridge, owner of the Moto Guzzi Classic motorcycle shop in Signal Hill, Calif., says he spray-painted the wheel covers on his new Ram 1500 pickup black. “I hate this chrome,” he says. The painted redos “look like a $1,200 set of a wheels, and I have 12 bucks in it.”