Auto Service World
Feature   January 1, 2007   by J.D. Ney

Silver Dominates Colour Popularity

Annual Colour Surveys Show Emerging Trends

Without much surprise from anyone in the industry, or even the casual automotive observer, silver has won out over the rest yet again in two major studies of automotive colour popularity.

Recently, both PPG and Dupont released their yearly review of the automotive paint market, and, while the changes among the rest of the rainbow were reasonably small, their implications should not necessarily be considered as such.

For the seventh consecutive year, silver has held its lead as the predominant colour choice for vehicles globally. But vibrant colours such as red and orange also registered noticeable growth around the world, according to DuPont Automotive’s 2006 Colour Popularity Report.

Since overtaking green in 2000, silver has held the top spot–the longest of any colour during the 54 years DuPont has been tracking automotive vehicle colour choice. However, there has been a broadening of the range of tones in silver and in grey, another top choice. The trend for the future includes the infusion of these neutral colours with greens, reds, and purples, which provides customers a broader palette of choices.

This sort of research result is actually mirrored closely by a similar annual study conducted by chief rival PPG, which found that the colour silver also topped its North American charts once again.

Silver surpassed all colours among North American vehicles produced in the 2006 model year with 24%, down 2% from last year, according to their data. Silver also remained the leading colour for 2006 in all North American vehicle segments, with the highest share (29%) in the luxury category. Much like Dupont, however, the PPG researchers also mentioned that in the near future, silver might not be just for your father’s Benz. According to PPG, in the future it will take on a fresh appearance as blues, browns, and greens start to surge and become infused with silver to create a new look.

“Silver remains number one, but it’s evolving beyond the old parameters,” says Jane E. Harrington, manager, colour styling, automotive coatings for PPG.

“We’re going to see more graphite hues, and silver will shift to become a more complex colour with subtle undertone tints of brown, blue, green, and gold.”

Vive La Difference. What’s Next?

According to DuPont, typically the bottom half of the top 10 colours point to the growth trend for the future. A clear trend for the future includes warmer tones such as red as well as the continued strength of blue. Blue and red have strengthened their positions as popular vehicle colours, each with 11% share in North America, and with 17% share for blue and 9% share for red in China. Blue remains a top choice in Europe with a 13% share overall, and a top-three colour choice in the compact/sport segment with a 15% share.

Internationally speaking, some of the more interesting results came out of Japan and Korea, with Japan single-handedly trying to stick to the old guard of silver, black and white, while South Korea expressed a unique interest in red and even orange.

“We are seeing a growing convergence in colour preference globally. But while the world is becoming flatter and tastes are harmonizing globally, we think that it is also important to look deeply at the cultural and taste differences in large and growing markets, such as Asia,” says Karen Surcina, colour marketing and technology manager, DuPont Automotive Systems.

Japan’s colour choices remain consistent with last year’s overall Asian results, where neutrals were dominant with silver at 27%, white/white pearl 24%, black 16%, and grey 12%.

The stronger showing of higher-chroma colours throughout the world points to a desire by consumers for more personalization of their vehicles. This boldness allows for smaller vehicles to make a strong statement and is most evident globally in the compact/sport segment where red and orange have seen a large upswing, notably in the three Asian markets and in North America. Red surfaced as the top colour choice in the compact vehicle segment in South Korea with 22%, as well as in the North American market compact/sport category, from 9% in 2005 to 15% in 2006.

Black remains a top choice across the global landscape. It is among the top five colours in the regions examined and has gained ground in specific segments in North America. The 2006 colour popularity report sees the growth of black in the North American luxury segment with 22%, mirroring black’s longstanding first place among European luxury vehicles with 37%. These gains in North America closely follow the European acceptance and growth of metallic black. Black has also gained ground in the intermediate vehicle segment in North America.

In South Korea, black is second in overall ranking of colour choice with 21%, behind the leader, silver, by one percentage point. Grey and white/white pearl hold 19% and 18% of the share respectively. The remainder of the colour palette in South Korea–blue, light brown, and red–accounts for 22% total.

Colour Trends in Mass Personalization

The trend to mass personalization, combined with the ability to provide a high level of customization in consumer goods, has opened up the opportunity for companies to provide differentiation for their customers through lower-volume products and special packages and colours. The automotive industry has responded to this trend with smaller volume vehicles and special packages that allow a consumer to personalize a vehicle direct from the factory. Large volume light trucks and large sedans are making way for a variety of models including Crossover Utility Vehicles (CUVs). The CUV is starting to dominate the intermediate-sized vehicle segment, and is being called out in this year’s colour popularity results for North America. With as many as 40% of consumers willing to switch brands for a specific colour, according to a national poll commissioned by DuPont, it is as important as ever that auto manufacturers provide a range of colours and track consumer preferences, now and in the future.

PPG’s report also pointed to some trends on the personalization front. According to Jane E. Harrington, manager, colour styling, automotive coatings for PPG, “This new trend is based on the consumer’s desire for handcrafted-looking products that are authentic and exclusive.” Harrington says she believes brighter colours are working their way back after years of silver, black, and white dominating the popularity charts.

“Colour is one of the first things someone notices about a vehicle. It redefines the shape and styling of a car and brings it to life,” she said. “We see colour inching back into the mainstream. Hues are being reinvented as they’re influenced by new shades, new coating technologies, and special effects.”

Overall, the colour landscape has not changed substantially over the past 12 months; silvers, blacks, and greys still dominate most marketplaces and it is hard to see that really changing significantly.

What does seem quite clear however, is that the very nature of silver, and what people next year are calling “silver,” is likely to be significantly different (at least from a composition standpoint) to what we have seen. Secondly, while colours like red and blue seem to be perpetually relegated to the also-ran positions on the charts, their apparent upswing in global popularity is not to be ignored.

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