Q: I’m a a fan of ’60s and ’70s muscle cars, and I love bright colors. In the past seven years, I’ve owned cars of varying hues, including yellow, red, blue, and copper as well as the ubiquitous white and silver. What car colors are most popular in the United States? What about down through the decades? How about other countries? Or is it mostly sport/muscle cars that are available in a rainbow of options?
Bill Craft, of Edwardsville
A: Even more than a century ago, Henry Ford unknowingly may have been onto something when it came to matching car color and consumer demand.
You may remember that the automotive pioneer is famous for allegedly quipping “You can have any color as long as it’s black” in marketing his Model T. Well, except for a period in the ’50s through ’70s when wilder hues caught buyers’ fancies, neutral colors generally have ruled the car spectrum roost.
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It continues to be true in the U.S. today, according to annual surveys by both PPG Industries and DuPont. Roughly one-quarter of car owners prefer white (somewhere between 21 percent and 24 percent). That’s followed by black (19 percent), silver and gray (both 16 percent). It’s no different anywhere else. In the Asia-Pacific rim, white and silver make up almost half of all cars, according to the PPG survey. Elsewhere, white and black account for 47 percent of cars in Europe and 45 percent in other areas. No matter where you go, you can expect that three of every four cars are almost sure to be white, black, gray or silver.
So why do a vast majority choose bland over bedazzling? Turns out we may be just too practical, according to theory. For one thing, most of us keep our cars for many years, so we choose colors carefully. Yes, that neon orange might appeal to a new college grad on the showroom floor, but is he or she still going to feel the love five years later? If they’re trying to get ahead in the business world, what will their clients or bosses think if they climb into a car that looks like the offspring of something from the Woodstock parking lot? In contrast, neutral colors are considered more tasteful, mix well on your driveway with any home exterior and never go out of style.
It’s also an example of success feeding on itself. Because buyers historically have preferred neutral colors, dealers tend to stock more of them, which, in turn, leads future customers to continue to buy them, thus perpetuating the cycle. Rental car companies also tend to offer more neutral colors, according to Yahoo! Finance.
Since cleanliness is next to godliness, silver is a big seller because it reflects more light, which both hides the dirt and highlights the car’s architectural lines, according to Chris Webb, exterior color and trend designer for GM North America. And, of course, sometimes it’s simple economics: According to English surveys, the resale value of silver cars, for example, is at least 10 percent higher than other colors.
But as you yourself are living proof, a Forbes magazine poll by iSeeCars.com uncovered a small but statistically significant difference in color preference between the sexes. Slightly more men preferred red while slightly more women liked silver.
However, the poll pointed out, it wasn’t necessarily the color that was important, but rather the type of car associated with the color. Males may prefer red, orange and black because they are the popular colors used on sports cars, which are associated with speed, wild times and beautiful women. Women, on the other hand, were found to prefer silver, brown and gold, which are often the big three among minivans and SUVs, the must-have maternal vehicles for child-toting.
And, in truth, even Henry Ford recognized this. According to the June 2003 issue of Automotive News, black was the only color of Model T’s from 1914 through 1925, but that was because of economics not because other colors were an impossibility. When consumer demand forced him to increase production, he needed a process in which the paint dried quickly. The answer was “japanning,” which we now call baked enamel.
“It was first used in the mid-1800s for decorative items imported into America,” Model T expert Guy Zaninovich, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, told the magazine. “(But) the only pigment that it worked in is black. If japanning worked in hot pink, all Model T’s would have been hot pink.”
In fact, from 1908, when the Model T was introduced, to 1913, it came in several colors. Then, in 1926 when competitors started to lure customers with more colorful cars, Ford went back to offering green, light blue, brown and maroon Model T’s, among others.
Today, red still commands about 10 percent of the market, followed by blue (7 percent), brown (5 percent), green (2 percent) and a tiny percentage of others, according to DuPont. So while I obviously can’t mention every car line, I can say that in addition to the four favorites, you can buy a 2018 Toyota Camry, for example, in blue crush metallic, galactic aqua mica, brownstone, and, for a $395 premium, ruby flare pearl.
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Answer to Sunday’s trivia: When Christopher Columbus claimed Puerto Rico for Spain during his second trip to the Americas, he christened the island San Juan Batista for John the Baptist. Its capital city was named Ciudad de Puerto Rico (rich port city), which eventually became the name of the entire island.