DuPont Says Silver Still Reigns



From Beijing to Berlin , there’s at least one thing that motorists all seem to have in common.


Yet again, silver remains far and away the most popular color for car buyers around the world, accounting for nearly one in four passenger cars, trucks, and crossover vehicles sold during the last year. According to the latest color popularity survey by DuPont Automotive systems, white, gray, blue, and black round out the Top Five list.


Manufacturers — and their suppliers — invest a sizable fortune in trying to stay on top of fashion trends, hoping to pick the right colors each year. It’s a challenging proposition considering the long lead-times at work in the auto industry. Complicating matters, suppliers like DuPont may spend several years testing new paints to make sure they can survive the wide and varied conditions owners will expose their cars to.


Making the right pick can be critical for a carmaker, says Karen Surcina, DuPont’s color marketing manager, noting that “91 percent of consumers consider color in their selection” of a new car. According to the paint supplier’s latest research, 39 percent of American motorists said they’d choose a different vehicle if their top pick wasn’t available in the right hue.


With the exception of the universally popular silver, color choices tend to vary from one market to another, according to Surcina. “The most amount of color is in the North American palette,” she says.


By contrast, European buyers overwhelmingly favor neutral shades, such as silver, black, or gray. The Japanese have long preferred white, which once accounted for 70 percent of their new vehicles, but even there, silver has taken over as the top choice. Germans, by the way, never choose beige, the color of their taxis. For the same reason, New Yorkers don’t like yellow.


Indeed, even in the U.S., color choices vary significantly from one region to another, confirms Bob Carter, the general manager of Toyota ’s high-line Lexus division. “New Yorkers can’t get enough cars in black-on-black. But ship that same car to Phoenix , and you could barely give it away.”


A lot of things are likely to influence the shades that motorists choose. Silver, for example, is especially popular on luxury cars, while red is a favorite on Corvettes and other sports cars. The folks who buy small and specialty cars are more likely to try purple, yellow, and other standout fashion shades.


Even the economy has an influence, historical trends reveal. Bright shades pick up in popularity during boom years, dark tones when times are tough. Color choices also flow with fashion trends, and what’s popular on the runways of Paris this season may directly influence what’s in showrooms next autumn.


Automotive design trends are also a factor. Some shades work wonderfully on soft shapes, such as the old Ford Taurus, but they may work horribly on an angular vehicle, like Cadillac’s edgy CTS sedan. So manufacturers are increasingly aware of how the catalog of colors they offer will match each product’s shape.


In recent years, even the most mundane colors have become a bit more sophisticated with the improvement in paint technology. “You’re seeing more colors that hue shift,” said Surcina, meaning they may appear to change when viewed from different angles or in different light. Using sophisticated nano-technology, suppliers have introduced flakes of material that provide depth and dimension to many of today’s paints.


Over the next few years, look for silver to slip a bit, though new versions infused with other hues could help keep it popular. Blues are gaining ground, and new versions of green are likely to make a comeback, according to DuPont’s Surcina. New technology is offering a literal rainbow of new colors, including a “holographic” flake that radiates a rainbow of hues, depending on how it’s viewed.


DuPont has even come up with a glow-in-the-dark paint that could allow an automaker to add safety stripes for extra visibility at night or, perhaps, glimmering flames that appear only after dark.


But even the most appealing new shades don’t always make it into production, says Dave Fischer, marketing manager for DuPont’s Automotive Systems Group. Assembly-line paint shapes are costly and highly regulated. Adding an extra step in the paint process can prove prohibitive, so manufacturers are often reluctant to risk the investment on something untested.


Ford did make a bet on the comeback of two-tone paint with the launch of its latest F-Series pickups. The look has proved both popular and profitable. But the automaker is less certain whether the two-tone look is due for a revival on the passenger-car side of its business, and has so far declined to make the investment.


If the majority of motorists tend to stick with tried-and-true hues, like silver or white, it’s not surprising, especially if they’re thinking long-term. Colors can also influence a car’s long-term value. “Black is always a good seller on the new-car market, but not on the resale market,” notes Fischer. That’s because it tends to show off a used car’s scratches and nicks. So “the difference between a desirable color and a not-so-desirable color,” he adds, “can be as much as $1000” at trade-in.


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