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Automakers seeking next hot color, but is it worth it?

The color of this Buick Avista concept car caught the eye of Cynthia Canty at the 2016 National American International Auto Show.
Photo by Steve Fecht for Buick


When looking for a new set of wheels, does the color make the car? Or does the color take a back seat to the car's design or what's under the hood?

Car enthusiasts who attended the North American International Auto Show in Detroit had a number of vehicles catch their eyes and the color of the car, likely, played a big role in that.

“When automakers go out to design vehicles in general, but particular concepts, color is as much a part of the process as is bending the sheet metal,” said Paul Eisenstein from TheDetroitBureau.com.

Eisenstein says the challenge of creating colors for automakers is that it requires a bit of a crystal ball. Designers have to figure out what colors the public will find appealing and what will be trendy three or four years down the road.

“PPG, like any of the paint suppliers, has different departments, architectural stuff, consumer electronics, and they’re looking also at other trends, like fashion,” said Eisenstein. “The challenge is always trying to figure out what sort of trends are coming and what sort of colors will hold, because some colors really pick up and then they bomb and you can really make a mistake out there.”  

"When you get down to it, when you actually look at what people buy, there's actually only a handful of colors that the vast majority of people will buy every single year."

Eisenstein says many designers take a deep psychological approach when choosing colors. With fear being a driving factor in politics and world news, he says this lends itself to the popularity of certain shades and color combinations.

“At a time when a lot of us are worried about all sorts of issues, including terrorism, one of the color groups that they expect to come on is something called ‘knight’s armor,’” said Eisenstein. “Tones that are largely darker and represent safety and security.”

Despite all the time and huge resources that are poured into finding new, hip colors to show off at the auto shows and television commercials, Eisenstein says at the end of the day, what people end up driving off the lot doesn’t change much.

“When you get down to it, when you actually look at what people buy, there’s actually only a handful of colors that the vast majority of people will buy every single year,” said Eisenstein. “Year after year, it’s the silvers, the whites, the grays, the blacks and the reds that dominate the sales charts. They’re like 80 to 90 percent.”

Listen to the full interview above to hear more about some of the colorful highlights from the Detroit Auto Show, and find out what dethroned silver as the No. 1 car color in the world.

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media.
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