It seems that every other car you see today is some shade of gray: Either black, gray, silver, or white. How much truth is there to this, and how far back does the trend of achromatization of our cars actually go? Let’s take a look.
Detailed historical automotive production data are notoriously difficult to come by. Luckily, New York is one of the few states that publishes its entire vehicle registration database (11.5 million total records). This data is de-identified, of course (no owner information is included). However, it does include VIN, year, make, model, and critically for my purpose, color. In other words, a perfect data set for analyzing short and long term trends in vehicle colors.
A few words on my methodology before I jump into the results. For starters, this data represents just a single state (New York), and not the entire US. While New York is one of the most populous states and therefore is fairly representative of the country as a whole, there could be regional differences (such as the southern preference for lighter cars due to their better heat-rejecting characteristics) that might get missed in this analysis.
More pressingly, since this data only represents vehicles that are still registered as of 2020, there may be some survivorship bias hidden in the data. The farther back in time we go, the smaller the sample of survivors gets, as well the increased possibility that the car may have since been repainted in a color other than its original color. Prior to 1946, the data gets jumpy as the sample sizes get down to double and even single digits, so I have excluded pre-war models from my analysis.
Next, there is also some degree of wonkiness in how New York records vehicle registration color, mostly because the system dates back decades. They don’t distinguish between gray and silver, for example, but they do recognize red and maroon as two different colors (as well as yellow and gold, the latter color being virtually extinct on modern cars).
Lastly, many cars prior to about 1960 were available in dual- or even tri-tone paint jobs. For vehicles like this, the State of New York records both a primary and a secondary (but no tertiary) color for vehicle registration purposes. For the purposes of my analysis, I have used the primary color when there are multiple colors specified.
With that out of the way, let’s jump in. For starters, it is not your imagination: Vehicles are getting more achromatic and less colorful, and have been for some time, as shown in the chart above. What may surprise you is the extent of this trend, and how long it has been going on. After varying between 25% and 40% for decades, colorful cars started increasing in the late ’60s and early ’70s, with peak color hitting in 1973. In that year, a whopping 80% of all cars were sold in an actual color, not just a shade of black, white, or gray. Since then, however, there has been a steady rise of the grayscale cars, with only a brief pause in the ’80s and ’90s. Since 1996 the take rate of grayscale cars has risen from 39% to 75% for the current year. In other words, almost a complete reversal from 1973.
Let’s take a closer look at your choices in 1973, picking a car that was on sale then and is still sold today: the Lincoln Continental. According to the brochure, in 1973 Lincoln offered 15 standard colors, 9 optional “Moondust” metallic colors, and two extra-cost “Diamond Fire” colors, for a total of 26 shades, only five of which are achromatic (two whites, and one each of gray, black, and silver). You also had your choice of nine different accent stripe colors and seven different vinyl top colors. There were also a whopping eleven(!) different interior colors (a topic for another day), giving a total of 25,740 interior and exterior combinations, meaning that any given color combination may be one of only a handful produced. When you factor in all the other option combinations, it is quite possible that Lincoln produced no two identical cars in 1973.
Now compare the 2020 Lincoln Continental, which is available in only 10 colors, a full 50% of which are shades of black, silver, white, or gray. It is also available in only three interior colors (A vinyl roof is alas no longer available). With at most 30 possible interior and exterior combinations, it is conceivable that a single dealer could have every possible color combination sitting on their lot at one time.
So what can we blame for this graying trend? As with most things, the answers are subtle, complex, and varied. My Google research surfaced many theories: Increasing income inequality and decreased consumer buying power is cited as one factor, under the theory that the bright cars of the ’50s reflected the post-war economic optimism of the time, while today’s drab cars reflect our drab economic outlook. Another theory points to Apple’s white and gray iDevices as influencing consumer tastes towards monochrome over the past several decades. Perhaps.
My favorite theory: The rise of utilitarian colors roughly tracks with the rise of utilitarian body styles (starting with minivans in the ’80s, followed pickup trucks and SUVs of today). Couple this with the increase in transaction costs relative to the buying power of middle-class consumers (which peaked around 1970), cars are now representing a correspondingly larger size purchase for most people. People are also holding on to their cars much longer as a result of both increased longevity and longer finance terms. This means that owners are more likely to be looking at the same car for six or seven years, instead of the three or four years of decades past. When you add all this up, buyers are going to be more conservative and cautious about their color choices, since a car now represents a much bigger investment (in terms of both dollars and time). This, by the way, is the same thinking that drives people to choose neutral color schemes in home decor.
So which brands sell the most achromatic cars? Anecdotally, Audi frequently comes up, the brand being so associated with the color silver that its rental business is called (only semi-ironically) Silvercar. In reality, Audi is only midpack, with 79% of its cars being a shade of gray. No, the grayest brands are Lexus and Acura, with an astonishing 88% of their cars sold bereft of color. Not surprisingly, the most colorful cars come from brands known for fun cars, like Fiat, Mazda, and Mini. Fiat is by far the most colorful brand, with almost half (45%) of their cars being registered in a non-gray color.
Let me leave you with one final chart before I go, which shows the percentage share of each color over the past 74 years. Black as a percentage of share has remained relatively steady over the decades (hovering between 10 and 20 percent), as has blue. The big winners are white and gray (the latter of which also includes silver). White’s growth across the decades is pretty steady, starting from almost nothing: When was the last time you saw a white pre-1960 car? Gray and silver’s growth was slower until the late ’90s, after which it exploded.
Obviously, the big losers are yellow (which peaked in 1973), gold (1971), orange (1972) along with red and green. You can see tan peaking in the late ’90s, as anyone who was alive at that time can attest to. You can also see the brief resurgence of brown in the early 2010s, which appears to have already run its course.
So what do you think? Why do you think we keep buying more and more grayscale-colored cars? Are colored cars poised to make a comeback, or will the graying of America’s cars continue?
Automotive History: The Long Road To The White Car (Part 1)
Something not mentioned is the near-disappearance of special ordering and the prevalence, particularly at the high-end of the mass market, of leasing putting a premium on something that’ll be an easy and quick sale, now and three years from now.
Carmakers seem to be loath to build more than one deviation from the norm into the same car, something I noticed when new-car shopping just before the pandemic. On several models if you wanted a manual transmission, none of the good colors were available and they were only configurable (let alone findable!) in two or three grayscales.
Even more than buyers and leasers worrying about residuals, the greyscale trend is driven by dealers who want to be able to easily sell what’s on their lots. With the demise of a la carte options and thus people ordering cars to their specifications, the vast majority now buy cars off the dealer’s lot or a nearby dealer’s lot, or maybe imports that are scheduled to arrive. I drove by a BMW dealership recently that had over 100 cars in their front lot, and every single one was greyscale. I can’t blame the dealer; most buyers will settle for metallic grey; they won’t settle for orange or violet.
The same trend has all but killed off manual transmissions in the US as well as any unpopular option combinations. (in the case of stick shifts, the high cost of certifying additional drivetrains for U.S. sale is a factor too).
Great analysis! But you forgot about the Black Label choices for the 2020 Continental, which adds a few more color options inside and out.
Not in Canada 🙁
Ive complained about the lack of colors forever. I blame honda.
The Stones saw this coming back in the mid Sixties-
“I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black…”
They also had a song titled “Blue Turns to Grey.”
I never knew this was a Stones song , I only ever heard the Cliff Richard version, which was released as a single.
I guess the Monkees also saw this coming back as well with “Shades of Gray”.
I think this is more appropriate:
Excellent analysis and article, and a great way to quantify what many of us have felt over the years. Lots to consider here….
Fascinating article! This, of course, validates what we all had likely suspected, but the graphics here present this in an amazing way. Kudos on ferreting out a methodology that can actually measure this phenomenon. Yes, I know it’s not perfect (and thanks, by the way, for including a detailed methodology), but I can’t think of anything that would be any more accurate.
A few random comments:
GO BLUE! I’m amazed to see the relative stability of Blue throughout the years. It has quietly stood its ground through endless cycles of fads.
YELLOW & RED: Interesting to see that Yellow was more popular in the early 1970s than Red is today (and I suspect that many shades of what we’d call Maroon are really listed as Red by NYS).
GREEN: Seems like no color is prone to regular periods of popularity – followed by periods of dormancy – like Green is. And I remember that 1990s surge of Green popularity – neat to see it in a chart. Looks like it’s about time for Green to come back again!
PURPLE: Is it just me, or does Purple’s occasional bouts of popularity almost exactly mirror those of Green? (early 1950s, early 1970s, mid 1990s)
WHAT CAN WE BLAME: I’ve wondered about folks’ drab outlook of the future, and whether that contributes to the popularity of drab colors (especially true of houses… sometimes the interiors of new houses look like they’re living B&W photographs). However, since the grayscale trend seems to have exploded around 20 years ago, I’m not so sure.
I do think a good part of this has to do with consumers holding on to their cars much longer, and not wanting to be beholden to a trendy color long after it ceased to be popular. And a lot of it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy due to dealers’ inventories, and what nlpnt mentions above regarding a lack of special ordering. For the last two times we bought a new vehicle, we negotiated with dealers with few limitations on colors (I told the dealers I didn’t want a black or white car, but that’s it). Both times we ended up with silver, just because that’s what we got the best deal on. But all of us (myself, wife and two kids) are now sick of silver cars. My kids have told me they want anything but silver for our next vehicle. We’ll see about that… based on your charts, it’s not looking too promising.
You’re right about a good deal. The deal on the pretty basic Mazda 3 I got was too good to pass up. So it is machine gray. Yes, there was a bright blue and a red but not in my region. Ordering one probably would have negated my great deal and besides when told the red is an up charge I would have laughed as I walked out the door.
I really can’t see a drab outlook driving drab colors. I want a car to attract me at first look. I want to enjoy it and feel the fun of driving it. A drab color negates all that for me.
‘I really can’t see a drab outlook driving drab colors. I want a car to attract me at first look. I want to enjoy it and feel the fun of driving it. A drab color negates all that for me.’
I see the loss of beautiful color not only in recent cars, but houses, interior decor, and clothing too.
For a little semi-scientific survey, I tabulated the colors of the houses on my street. Some of these houses have recently had vinyl siding put on. Here are the results for 6 blocks (23 houses) Spruce St., from Union St. to Green St., Boonton NJ:
Lt. Blue: 1
My own house is a 1905 Queen Anne which is painted in 4 colors: blue/gray with cream, dark green, and sky blue trim. It is not counted above.
I grew up in a 1955 tract house development, and the houses were painted a variety of shades, with shutters and trim painted a contrasting white, black, or a complementary color. Our house was light yellow with white trim; I remember neighboring houses in varieties of green, blue, yellow, tan; no red, but there was even a pink one w/ white shutters.
The Addams Family movie set is supposed to emulate a High Victorian interior–and it is a swirl of color. The semiotic reason why everything is so dull today–I’m not sure. Maybe someone here has a good theory…
This article immediately had me thinking about houses, and especially house interiors. Below is a picture of a house that was sold recently near me — this type of look is not unusual around here at all:
Good Lord, that’s depressing. There isn’t a single thing that says, “This is a place where people actually live.” Nothing that softens the bare, drab surfaces, nothing that says “This makes me (or us) feel good.”
Yuck, shi shi modern and you can keep it.
That looks like an operating theater, not a look conducive to relaxation in my book. The COVID-look?
My late in-laws’ old house was on the market recently. The owners stripped out all the seventies decor (timber beams, polished wood), everything that made it different from other houses, and painted everything white. Ugh! They also ripped out the sheds, fernery and vegetable garden, but that’s another issue.
A bedroom you can still easily change the colors of – just paint the walls and buy new bed linens, maybe throw down a new rug. But have you renovated a bathroom lately? Try buying a new bathtub or toilet these days that isn’t white. You’ll find an occasional bone/biscuit/beige or light grey, and even occasionally black, but when I started out in the ’90s you could still get plumbing fixtures in a rainbow of colors, including multiple shades of blue, pink, green, red, plum, you name it. Also almost gone: brass faucetry.
Since you mentioned bathrooms, here’s bathroom picture of the same house:
That’s a remodel, right? I’m going to take a wild guess and venture that house sold for at least ten percent (or $50k, whichever is more) over what the average house of the same square footage, lot size, age, and beds/baths goes for, assuming those other houses are shades of beige inside and out or a smorgasbord of various color and patterns. Can’t keep houses with this current look on the market, it sells very quickly.
The look works significantly better once accent pieces are introduced and generally serves as a neutral background for the owner’s personality to shine through with their belongings and artwork etc. That bathroom should be staged better, a couple of towels or a vase or bottles etc would do wonders.
It’s new construction. Perhaps I should have noted that… and I agree the staging could be better, but what really strikes me about these images is that this type of stuff sells — this is what a lot of people find attractive.
Why bother doing a better job of staging when people will buy it as is. I just checked, and this house sold 10 days after being listed. And many houses around here look like this — dark gray floors and woodwork, white walls, and colorless fixtures.
Like David wrote above, there’s nothing about that house that says to me “This makes me (or us) feel good.” But clearly there’s many people who really dig it. Like silver cars.
People (mostly) are buying what feels safe (and conformist with the prevailing trend). They may in fact not mind personality and color but they definitely don’t want someone else’s personality and color. After all, if every house was a rainbow of color then there’d be someone saying that’s boring and why can’t something just be calm and sterile….😀
You want some wild and wacky colors — this is the bathroom (yes only 1 bath) of the 1935 house I grew up in. You’re looking at lavender and peach! (The door, window trim, and radiator cover were painted over or added later in cream.)
We were the 3rd owners; I don’t know what the original owner was thinking. The tile work is beautiful, but those colors! We were still able to get a matching color for the toilet in 1968.
Fortunately, the wood trim and hardwood floors in the rest of the house were tastefully done, except for the green-tinted stain on the kitchen trim and cabinets (removed in a 1969 remodel).
Funny, because the bathroom in our current house has peach walls, and yellow & blue tile. When we first moved in, I hated it, but in the four years since then I’ve grown to like it.
Love it! As would Stephanie. Two great colors and they make a great combination.
Our house is a riot of color.
I occasionally look at realtor websites and I’m amazed at the number of houses where EVERY room is painted gray.
There must be a computer program involved.
On hint was a laundry room with TWO identical stacked washer/dryer combinations next to each other.
As a real estate photographer for many years, I’ve watched interior fashions go from bold accent walls to today’s monochrome look. New tract homes look to have been painted from the same bucket of mocha-gray. Even the ceilings, which messes with my usual lighting strategy of bouncing flash off the ceiling. Like art gallery walls, they do show off any staged furniture or decor. But the light inside them is grim- it’s like standing inside a big cup of weak coffee.
Keener observers of home decor have written that colors are favored when the economy is good, but in hard times, homeowners are afraid of standing out. Afraid of their cars standing out, too, but is it to cops, or thieves? I don’t understand, because I’m not like other people. I’m just practical- I want to be able to spot my car in a parking lot.
Thankfully this look is on its way out, at least in my area. Many new homes in my area have natural wood tone floors, cabinets, trim ect.
It won’t be long before people are saying how homes like this are “so dated”.
Cabinets: real wood, stained just a shade above jet black. Floors, woodlike laminate with a bleached, whitened finish. Gag me…
Yeah houses, their appliances and fixtures have lost color too. My second house that was largely untouched from 1956 when I purchased it, had a turquoise oven and cook top and another house of the same plan that I found many years later had those same appliances in pink. Once those colors went away you could get harvest gold, avocado, and often a rust/brown color. I bought a dishwasher for that house no too long after I purchased it and it came with 2 front panels, each finished with two different colors. Now they don’t even bother to make dishwashers with interchangeable panels.
That house also had a matching pink toilet, tub and sink along with pink and white tile in the bathroom in the addition.
I love finding houses with the old colored tile, tub, sinks and toilets.
Your comments make me think of the Malvina Reynolds folk classic, “Little Boxes.”
“Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same
There’s a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same”
If Malvina were to write that song today, it would go something like:
“There’s a grey one and grey one
Another grey one and a another one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same”
Compared to Victorian and 1920s houses I had known, I thought our 1955 house was kind of “ticky-tacky”, but our house had hardwood floors with longer pieces of wood, decent crown moldings at floor level, actual wooden shutters with functional hinges, and no particle board anywhere. Some recent construction I’ve seen is REALLY ticky-tacky!
Even though all the houses in our development were the same plan (mirror imaged), the variety in color made for a lively streetscape. Some interesting combinations were light gray with pink shutters, creamy white with periwinkle blue shutters, pale green with white shutters which had little diamonds in the shutters picked out in green; yellow with dark green shutters was common. And, in the early years, there were no additions, aluminum/vinyl siding, replacement windows, or extravagant landscaping.
The photo below is from New Jersey, and these homes are more elaborate than ours was–but you get the idea:
There’s been the rise of HOAs, enforcing rigid, narrow color palettes and even ornamentation standards–banning anything that really identifies a house as one’s own.
Last surviving house in my development with the original siding, windows, bay window, front and garage doors, and wooden shutters with the original “S-curve” hardware. All other houses have been modified and have lost their original look. This is close to the way it would have looked in 1955.
Light peach siding with green shutters.
That song reminds of the row upon row of stucco houses lining the hills of Daly City. The houses all look the same except for all the colors.
And the cars outside those houses/
Are all taller than they need to be/
And they’re not any good colors/
And they all look just the same.
There’s a RAV4 and a CR-V/
And an Equinox and a Cherokee/
And they’re not any good colors/
And they all look just the same.
I was recently furniture shopping and the lack of color in both upholstered furniture, as well as wood-finished furniture, is depressing. So much black, white, beige, shades of gray and a few shades of brown. In order to get color you have to spill out the big bucks for (hopefully) better quality pieces. To make up for the lack of color in the furniture, most interior designers seem to be resorting to adding accessory pieces in bright colors that add a bit of “pop.” Think pillows, throws, vases, artwork and picture frames.
(You know, I’ve been watching way too much HGTV during these times of quarantine.)
Sadly, I don’t see many vehicle owners attempting to personalize their vehicles with color.
I blame HGTV house flipping shows.
“This kitchen is really dated”
“we really need to knock down this wall for open concept”
“This tiny little picture will provide a pop of color to this stark modernist hellscape we keep repeating every episode”
Notice the repeating trend in these shows is to SELL them, not live in? Most viewers don’t either, they benchmark the style as “modern living” brought to us by professional designers, no matter how cold and sterile it is to actually put up with living in.
The lack of color choices benefits the manufacturers. This saves them a considerable amount of money. But people are complicit in this. The fact that the most popular color choice for home interiors is also gray establishes that for most people color is no longer relevant. They get all of the color they want from the screens of their devices.
It would be interesting to see a breakdown by make and model. I’d assume that basically 100% of orange cars from the last few model years have been Subaru Crosstreks.
If you wanted an even deeper rabbit hole, how about metallic vs. non metallic. Crosstrek would certainly win that too.
The final (and very easy to understand) chart looks to me not unlike a piece of Fordite. And I guess a chunk of Fordite would have presented the same information over a very short period of time at the paint booths in Dearborn.
I was going to say that, too. I’ll take a set of cufflinks made of that piece, please.
Excellent article, thank you. I find the lack of color choices to be depressing. Interestingly I also find new vehicles are becoming increasingly garishly styled, full of sheetmetal folds and creases, with complex bright brightwork and trim in abstract shapes. I consider this complexity is stylistically permissible or driven by the lack of color choices. Dull paint color requires these extra details to look interesting and eye catching.
I think the greyscale cars are easier for auto makers and dealers to manufacture and sell. They are mediocre but inoffensive so buyers are more likely to accept them, without a special order. This provides more reliable new car sales and more predictable trade in value.
One thing I didn’t see mentioned is pickups. The full sizers are often available in many more colors than many car lines including multiple shades of the same base hue. However the majority are sold in white, likely due to stocking and fleet considerations.
In the end it just comes down to what people are willing to pay for. Colors are out there, of even the ten Continental choices though I’d guess that the red are extremely rare, and the blues slightly less so. Perhaps that’s part of the reason it failed, i.e. not enough choice, but then again with such a low volume model, no dealer is going to stock lot-poison and the market is mostly about immediate gratification.
Of our cars, we’ve specifically rebelled against silver the last few cycles, currently we have a light gold (Creme Bruleee) Highlander that was specifically chosen and sought out that way, an Orange Jeep that was partly selected due to not being a boring color in favor of other more boring ones, the truck is also goldish (but availability and price were the consideration there, the color was simply irrelevant) and the next vehicle (still on order) is blue. The one we just sold was pearl white, and purchased due to the significant discount on that particular one as that was one of the main considerations at the time.
It’d make a good QOTD – i.e. what colors are your cars, what specific color do you actually wish it was and more importantly would you be willing to wait even one extra day or pay one extra dollar for it to have been so when you purchased it. I’d guess most people (of the public, not necessarily here) would say no to the last.
In addition to being available in many more colors than cars, I’m struck by how pickup trucks are still available with large amounts of bright “chrome?” trim in their higher-level model lines and as options.
It’s like the styling aesthetics of the ’50s and ’60s never really died, they just migrated to pickup trucks.
“would you be willing to wait even one extra day or pay one extra dollar for it to have been so when you purchased it. I’d guess most people (of the public, not necessarily here) would say no to the last.”
I think that sums the root of the problem up pretty well. John Q Public isn’t willing to wait or pay more to get one color over another. So not much incentive for dealers to stock a lot of choice in colors which turned into mfgs not wanting to offer too many colors.
Yes. I would willingly pay a premium to NOT get a bunch of chrome, but yes, I would pay a premium for a color I like.
Sadly, it wasn’t an option…months of searching found precisely three Challengers with the configuration I wanted (SRT, 6-speed, no sunroof)…one black, one charcoal, and one yellow…but priced 20% over high book value, and 2000 miles away. (I’m in New England, it was in Denver.)
In order to avoid a gray or black interior; I had to wait 2 1/2 months to get this almost turquoise and 3 shades of biscuit interior for my 2019 Camry LE.
Done with black or gray interiors!
There is no mention of resale value. Since it appears most *new* car buyers want white/gray/black, it stands to follow that used-car buyers would as well. So whether you trade in or sell privately, cars on the grayscale will sell faster. The trading dealer wants to sell your trade-in as fast as they can, and if you’re selling privately, you do too.
Anecdotally, there are used-car buyers who seek out color, and they’re happy to wait until the right color comes along, perhaps even paying a bit more than they would for a gray car. But as a seller, you have to wait for that buyer to come along.
My daughter is one. So far she’s had two Honda Jazzes (’06, ’09), both in the same shade of pearlescent yellow. In both cases she had to travel to the other side of our state to get the car. Plenty of boring ones around, but when you’re online looking (as young folks do these days), what makes one white car stand out from all the other white cars? And the first one had been in stock at the dealer for six months, and they resorted to chopping $2500 off the price to sell it. Seems nobody in Melbourne wanted a yellow manual.
Same thing when I bought my Mazda3. My son did the online searching, and I told him it had to be a colour, and not red. I wound up with almost a fluorescent metallic blue, and just in the next village down the road – convenient!.
Your ability to use New York works reasonably well as corrosion of vehicles up there will likely help minimize survivor bias in colors. My mind also goes to all the orange cabs in the city but as a percentage of overall vehicles in the state it’s doubtful there is any skewing.
Having been building a few hypothetical new pickups lately, I went to oldcarbrochures.com and found color offerings for a 1968 Ford F-series. Colors were Rangoon Red, Pebble Beige, Raven Black, Meadowlark Yellow, Holly Green, Lunar Green, Sky View Blue, Harbor Blue, Wimbledon White, Chrome Yellow, and Pure White. That is 11 colors with two blues, two whites, two yellows.
The 2020 F-150 brochure also has 11 colors; Oxford White, Race Red, Iconic Silver, Velocity Blue, Stone Gray, Abyss Gray, Leadfood, Magnetic, Blue Jeans, Magma Red, and Agate Black. So that’s two reds, two blues, one white, and four grays. Times have changed.
Excellent points about interior decor being grayscale. I have repainted nearly every room in this house and have not used anything gray; the only white was in the master bath.
With vehicle color, it also makes me wonder about the raw degree of conformity there may be in society as opposed to the percentage of non-conformists there may be.
New York issues special license plates to city taxis with “T&LC” on them so they’d likely be easy to break out or come pre-broken-out. I’m assuming this is from the regular passenger and “Suburban” (wagon/crossover/SUV/certain hatchbacks) registrations.
Great article, research and graphs. The last one reminds me of a piece of Fordite.
I’d say most of the blame lies in the fact that custom ordering your car to your spec just doesn’t happen very frequently and even fleets don’t special order colors like they used to. So dealers stock what they think they can sell and not get stuck with a lot anchor. Gov’t fleets have mainly moved to white, but there are still some hold outs.
The city where the house I’m currently working on has continued to use the old special order colors to ID what dept the trucks belong too. Street dept trucks are the classic old school Omaha Orange, while parks dept trucks are Red and water dept are Blue. It doesn’t matter if it is a Ram, Chevy, Ford or International a given dept has trucks of a matching color across their individual fleet. They did stop using their custom shade of blue for the police cars about 10-12 years ago. My state also color codes some of their vehicles, for example fish and wildlife are a special order gold, again doesn’t matter if it is a Ford or the rare Chevy.
Personally I won’t do a grey car, though I will take a good, bright, silver. My wife prefers blue and would rather not have red. So of course for years the best deal I could find when looking at cars for her was usually red. Now that we are better off financially I’d pay extra to get the color she wants.
Of course the modern cars in family fleet are mostly white, fleet white, due to purchasing trucks and P71s from the state or a county. Next most popular is blue with 3 and 2 blacks. Two of those blues were purchased because they were blue. One is my 2003 300B Marauder and when it showed up on craigslist I purchased it because it was one of only 328 painted in Dark Blue Pearl. The other is the wife’s C-Max in Blue Candy because she always pointed those out when driving her boring silver C-Max, itself a former state car.
I recently added a ” new to me ” car to my driveway. With the 09 Ford sedan looking pretty drab, no thanks to WHITE paint coming off in strips, I was determined than my next car would NOT be white, grey/silver, or black. I had my eye on a yellow car that I should have bought since it met all my criteria and I would have loved the choice of a green car…as long as it wasn’t ” pond scum ” green. But along came a pretty decent metallic (wine) red Mustang convertible with a gold top and gold leather interior. Incredibly, this little pony car had 1 previous owner….the legendary little old lady who in this case was all of 80 years old when she sold the car.
Interesting article! A several thoughts here:
Some of colours don’t do well over the longer period of time. Think of harvest gold and avocado green in the 1970s, bright geometric colours associated with Memphis Group movement in the early 1980s, vehicles with turquoise metallic during the 1990s. They were everywhere for a several years, then people got sick of them and disposed them. So, it’s often hard to predict which one would be faddish or time-tested. Fashion comes and goes quickly with minimal loss of investment, but vehicles aren’t like fashion items.
In Germany, lot of buildings and public transportation vehicles were built during the 1980s, using the dark pink material with turquoise accents. By 2000s, they were so ugly and faddish. Thus, the strong trend to safer, more neutral colours.
Sometimes the manufacturers would stick with one colour for their promotional vehicles. The latest trend in Germany for the last several years is deep blue metallic paint: mystic blue for Mercedes-Benz, lapis blue for Volkswagen, etc. Volkswagen has been promoting the bold yellow and orange metallic paints lately: limone yellow and energetic orange (I have seen them, and they do look great on certain Volkswagen models).
The other reason for sticking with neutral colours (white, black, silver, and grey) is the cost. If you want something beside neutral colours, expect to pay more for that privilige, especially with metallic paints. The manufacturers don’t always offer the non-metallic paints in various colours beside aforementioned neutral colours. Lot of dealers in the United States often order the neutral colours as to shift the inventories quicker. In Germany, many Germans prefer to specify their vehicles rather than buy one off the lot as “instant gratification” (American phenomenon) isn’t widespread here. So, they get more colour options and feel more bold about choosing the “extrovert” colours.
My friend, an Art Center College of Design alumnus, told me that white is often used to accentuate the design better, especially on Lamborghini Aventador. Some colours do that job better while other colours don’t.
For a while, I have been eyeing the second-hand Audi RS6 Avant (facelifted C7, 2015–2018) in specific blue metallic as well as blue matte paints with light grey interior. They got sold quickly at higher price as soon as they were posted in the classified ads. The ones with neutral colours and dark interior languish for weeks or even months in autoscout24.de and mobile.de
If I recall, a cosmic dimbulb journalist in the early 2000s wrote about protecting the car investment. He recommended sticking with neutral colours as to help sell the vehicles quickly. His article was widely published as well as plagiarised to this day.
Another trend I’ve seen isn’t exclusive to automobiles. Lufthansa’s new controversial and much-hated vice president decided that Lufthansa’s trademark yellow had to go. When the new 2018 livery was revealed, the intense uproar in Germany ensued about the distinctive yellow circle being delegated from the tail to A4 paper-sized rectangle next to Door 1A. Lufthansa’s new depressing-looking livery no longer stood out amongst the planes at the aeroports or in the sky, and the fans have complained about the dreadful cost-saving “Eurowhite” livery.
Turquoise and Pink… reminds me of the State of Illinois building here. It’s hasn’t aged well, in my opinion.
“My friend, an Art Center College of Design alumnus, told me that white is often used to accentuate the design better, especially on Lamborghini Aventador. Some colours do that job better while other colours don’t.”
Conversely, black is often used to obscure the design, especially in vehicles that might have awkward proportions, as well as to make a vehicle appear somewhat smaller in overall size.
My aunt had a black Austin A30 – imagine how tiny that looked!
Its all about cost cutting. Same reason all interiors are gray black or beige now. The costs of adding more color options in a paint shop is high and if you choose neutral colors you can cut the choices down signifficantly, save $$$$ and keep sales even. Hence black white silver and gray prevail. Red and blue are hanging from a thread. Green yellow orange brown etc gone.
Honda started this trend. Theyve always kept color choices limited to just a few (ones we have now) and few brighter colors (if any) limited to specific trims. It just took other manufacturers decades to notice this and copy them.
Honda offers different colors in different markets for the same exact car built in the same factory in the same model year so it’s not just about production cost, but apparently also marketing and being able to have sufficient inventory, i.e. less choices due to cost savings. It’s the same as when there is a stick shift offered in one market and not in another for the otherwise identical car. Color is the one variable thing in a car that can remain exactly the same and has zero regulatory guidance attached to it.
I wish the regulators WOULD clamp down on low-vis car colours. In poor weather conditions some car colours totally disappear if the dimbulbs don’t think to turn their lights on. Dull silver, silvery-blue, grey….. Maybe a tax or an insurance surcharge on these might make people revise their colour choices to something more visible.
Or maybe not hit other people? The onus isn’t on them to avoid you…
…totally disappear if the dimbulbs don’t think to turn their lights on. This is epidemic in the last few years. People don’t know how to turn on Headlights or, assume they are on Auto setting. No reason, if the Dash lights come on automatically the Exterior ones shouldn’t also. One line of code and, done!
I’ve seen a few new Jeeps in Turquoise!!! Love that. There is also some very nice non metallic solid colors on new cars that are very nice just because of the depth of their solid color.
Just saw one Saturday, what a great color
I spend all day in traffic and I’m seeing lots of reds and blues among the grey and black greens are still out there too apliance white rental shitboxes areeven now in other colours I regularly drive past the storage lots of new cars and there are plenty of colours about in there and transporters moving new cars to dealers are a common sight and they have multi coloured loads, Silver is still popular and in this city where washing cars is all but impossible its a good choice it doesnt show the grime.
What about auto types? Small cars look better in brighter colors than large vehicles (with exceptions). The reduction in small cars may track with the rise of duller paint jobs.
Those exceptions are (to my eye) serious 4x4s or facsimilies thereof, and sports cars.
PS The 2020 Continental “Iced Mocha” is, technically, a non-grey color, but it seems to have very little chromaticness (?) in it, compared even to the 1973 “Tan”.
I wouldn’t be surprised that the “grayscale” effect follows a similar trajectory in which paint technologies advanced. That surge of color in the late 80’s was around the same time water based paint was being introduced.
Drab car colors to go with the equally drab days of the Covid plague. Well, at least you an get a RED interior on a Camry. It’s a start.
Today’s red interiors are mostly red seats and a small patch of red leather on the door trim in an otherwise black interior. I want an interior that’s all red; few are available anymore.
Doing my part to keep vibrant colors alive!
When I bought my 2017 Sonata, I almost went Hybrid to get the blue leather interior. But I couldn’t find one nearby, so I went with the dark royal blue exterior instead.
My 2006 Saab, however, still gets compliments 15 years later because of its lime yellow paint.
I mostly blame dealers stuffing their lots with them. Not only does that limit supply to greyscale, it also signals to the buyer “hmm, if I order that cool red in the ad, the resale may be lower” This may be an overarching problem is nobody has a sense of true ownership with their major purchases, it’s become about not having something too outlandish to appeal to the next person, rather than having something they can actually be proud of.
Reminds me that a few years ago (mid 2010s) Chevrolet had 3 shades of black/dark grey that were very much alike. (A plain clear coat version, a metallic version, a dark grey…) The kicker was that from the type of distances at which people would likely be trying to find their cars in a parking lot the colors were nearly indistinguishable.
My wife’s 2016 Terrain is “Ebony Metallic” – which my smarta$$ refers to as “Extra Cost Black” given the $400 charge on the sticker for that paint code.
I bucked the trend by getting “Rioja Red” on my Buick. For me to accept Black – Grey – Silver – White and it’s variants the vehicle will have to be equipped exactly as I want or it will have to be a heck of a good deal.
Thanks for pointing out that the NYSDMV database is accessible to the public. I was able to determine that my 1972 Triumph GT6 is still on the road, although I haven’t seen it in almost 30 years. My 1971 Triumph Bonneville is also still active.
One of the four Moto Morinis registered in NY might be mine. There is a gray 1985 in the database – mine was silver. Although mine was actually an 1980 I bought it new in 1984, so maybe an error crept in with the year.
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” –Henry Ford, 1909
“Any customer can have a car painted any color that they want so long as it is black, grey, white, or beige; maybe a blue or a red if they beg and pay extra money and we decide to humour them.” –The auto industry, 2020
This grand colour wheel was prominently displayed at the 2018 Detroit auto show, amongst others plus and minus several years. Just look at all those vivid choices, wow! Four greens, five blues, yellow, orange, eight reds…why, it’s enough to make you forgive twenty-one on the grey-black-white-silver-beige, uh, “spectrum”.
…until you learn that well, gosh, not all colours are available on all models. Which models can be an actual colour? Well, that’s a very good question and they’re certainly glad you asked it. Are there any other questions? No? Very good; thanks for comin’ out, everybody.
When I bought my 2015 Elantra, the only choices with the package I was buying were white, black metallic, or silver. When I totaled that one and replaced with a 2016, I bought the only red one that was similarly equipped, with the other choices remaining the same. I remember in the 90s, though, compact cars were often ice blues, teal, yellow, lots of other colors. I miss that. The metallic blue-green color on Chevy pickups was very nice, as was the electric blue.
Found this in my car porn collection today.
Fits right in.
This pic was supposed to be attached.
If it’s not there this time ……….
Try reducing the file size. Usually when I post attachments here, I reduce them to no larger than 1,200 pixels in the bigger dimension. Almost always works.
I’ve reflected on the topic this afternoon, and I’ll say this. I put my money where my mouth was in 2001 and bought a yellow Focus. I would never ever buy a yellow car again, or something equally vibrant. The amount of mostly negative attention that car attracted was startling, to be honest. Nobody ever tried running me off the road in my green Accord, or the red Celica, or the black Soul. That ford? Multiple times…
I’ve been following the comments on this post today, and while there’s a number of relevant ones, you’ve hit on a key issue: the changing tastes and values associated with colors. As society has become more conformist in the past few decades, strong colors like yellow have increasingly been associated with social outliers, as in those wanting to attract attention. As a society, most folks seem to not want to be seen too far outside the accepted norms, and those norms have simply changed, as they always do. There was a time in the 1920s and 1930s when a bright yellow car would have attracted outsized attention too.
I will never forget the first instance at a gas station while I filled it up; random 45 year old male, 230ish pounds. “Nice piece of shit you have”. Me soaking wet at 145 was extremely uncomfortable. The offender when I brought it home:
Maybe he didn’t like Ford. Maybe he didn’t like the Focus. Maybe he thought all econo cars were shit. Maybe all three but that isn’t a bright yellow at all.
I could be on a freeway with four lanes east bound and four west bound and all are white, grayish, or black and then one car, with a outstanding color passes by on the opposing side. That will catch my attention as fast as a CHP car would. However, my first thought is cool…
Or it’s a 19 year old photo printed on paper when that was a thing, recaptured on what the kids would call an old iPhone…
I reckon this is exactly it: greyscale has become the current conformity.
To use a slightly off-piste analogy, the clothes of the better-off Edwardians were frequently outlandish in colour. If you were wearing the same tones by the thirties, you’d look somewhat a freak.
Mind you, I’m pretty shocked at the idea of a yellow car causing unprovoked aggression at a gas station like that.
I’m the guy who believes that your life forces your vehicle upon you. Single, drive what you want. Married, drive what she wants. First kid, drive what is safe. Third kid, drive what can hold five adults and their stuff comfortably. Empty nesters, drive something Japanese.
Single, drive what gets you attention. Married, drive what makes you look stable. First kid, drive what makes you look parental. Third kid, drive what keeps the stains from showing up. Empty nesters, drive something Japanese.
Interesting and a lot of work to get this analysis complete.
Speaking as someone who will always go for a colour, a few thoughts……
Whilst I’m unfamiliar with full process of buying a car in the US, I note the pattern of “taking a car home today” and/or buying from dealer stock. Is a dealer going to find “it’s silver but you can take it home today” an easier sell than “it’s bright red/blue/yellow and you can take it home today”?
Speaking for the UK, the prestige German marques have a tradition of grey and silver, and has this rubbed across to other brands? You rarely see an BMW, M-B, Audi or VW in a truly vibrant or statement colour. “Conservative” covers most of them, and a certain amount of flattery from other brands goes on
The pattern of a standard default colour and all others being an extra, even if still matt. If the default is sliver and, say, red or blue are another £700 (economically nonsensical of course) then maybe that impacts people, or the £700 goes on sat-nav, sunroof, leather etc
Some brighter colours are offered and some brands major on them. Renault for example have a stunning red metallic on the Captur and Clio that looks a $1000.00 and probably costs £750. Similarly, Nissan have a bronze shade on the new Micra.
Rental and lease companies looking for solid residuals? Many of our police cars are silver with decals rather than white for that reason.
And the 30% of Alfas that aren’t silver are presumably red…..I thought it was actually 50%!
Please don’t take me wrong if I say this is the most interesting CC post in the past week. CC is always interesting, but this especially so. As something of an arty type I have a definite interest in colour. I have owned four cars – bronze, pale gold, and two blues, the last a startling bright metallic when I’d just washed it and the sun was on it.
It seems weird that at a time when increasing emphasis is placed on being environmentally responsible, we aren’t seeing more availability of green as a car colour..
As for CC-in-scale, I’ll just park this here.
My current fleet is 100% grey, so I stand accused! However, all three were the result of ‘buying what was available, in a color I could live with’ vs. purposely choosing grey. When we bought the TourX, we did specifically look for one with the tan interior. I liked the Roja Red exterior color, but my wife didn’t, and being her car, that was that. The SS only came with a black interior, as did the RAM 2500 Tradesman.
Thinking back over the years, my color choices (some of which were not necessarily a “choice”) were blue (7), red (6), white (5), grey (4), black (3), brown (2), green (2) and military flat olive over grey (The Mayfield Belle, my ’71 VW van painted like a B-17 bomber).
Great post. I have been griping for a while about the dearth of color in recent years. The last two car purchases my wife and I have made can be seen below. It’s only coincidental that they are both green; then main goal in both cases being to get paint that has some life in it. The Fiesta in particular is festive, but the Soul holds up, too.
Nor sure why the picture did not attach the first time…?
I like looking at color charts from cars/brands in the 1950s through 70s like the 1973 Lincoln paint chips shown here, and imagining how many of those hues would render a 2020 version of the same car unsellable. Think ’20 Continentals are a slow seller now? Try selling one that’s 1973 Light Green, Pastel Blue, or Light Yellow Gold, or Brite Lime Gold Moondust Metallic (awesome name or what?)
On the other hand, I think several of the darker non-greyscale colors on that chart would look good on a modern luxury car. Also, surprised that the two colors that were special order only were a mundane white and beige.
I love the color on my new Bolt, shown next to our Spark EV. The wife dislikes black/gray/silver/white even more than I do. When we drove out to the dealer and she saw the Bolt she turned to me with a smile and said, “We’re buying it, aren’t we”.
Beautiful blues PDXElectric!
In 45 years of car ownership, here are the colors of the cars of my wife and me (excluding what she traded in before I met her). The total number is rather small compared to what some of you post here about your COALs. Decades are by vehicles’ model years.
1970s: 1 each yellow, brown, blue, white
1980s: 1 blue, 1 brown
1990s: 1 red, 1 blue, 1 gray
2000s: 1 blue, 1 silver
2010s: 1 red, 1 gray
Actually after commenting this morning I paid attention to the colours of the cars surrounding me today it varies with the changing of the road population plenty of varying colours at rush hour weith commuters making their way to work onced they are gone white is the predominant colour vans and pickups with tradies at the wheel usually sign written or wrapped advdertising what they do but white makes the best background for that, Trucks full size are supplied mostly in white and get fleet paint jobs or logos wrapped a trip past any dealership bears that out though yellow Mercedes and Volvos sit on lots.Plenty of colour out there if you look.
The car as Leased Object, a fridge or tv to be replaced for a better one at a fixed cost each three years: the misuse of architectural minimalist principles, sold as neat and sleek, co-opted gleefully for its savings by the developer class (when we poor humans, whose fragile economics dictate that we must buy the look, are anything but sleek or neat): the cold impersonality of ever-rising steel-grey cities where we most of us live: a creeping conformity common to all times but of value in depersonalized times when not doing so can provoke attack: a faces-ahead sense separation, of people looking inwards to their angry screens and not out to their local world, all these things in combination favor the impersonal colors of greys sliding into black.
Brutalism on Wheels.
I stopped by red vehicles, Moto Guzzi, Cougar, Thunderbird, Pinto, everyone of them tried to kill me.
Regardless of the reasons for mutating into only grayscale, the loss of color is really sad. And what makes it even more sad is that people are usually found to have elevated good moods influenced by being surrounded by color.
Think about it, when we take a walk in a natural setting, there is a riot of color assaulting our senses. On a sunny day, greens, browns, reds, blues, yellows, oranges, purples, black, pink, white, and gray surround us and envelope us, and the effect is to make us a bit happier. A walk in a gray fog, late in the evening, or during a downpour has the opposite effect, as we are surrounded by only a grayscale version of the exact same world.
Think also in car terms. A 1950s car, awash in colors, usually looks joyful, playful, and usually attracts a smile. A 2010 car, in menacing black, may be admired, but more admired as one would admire a Doberman Pinscher guarding a gate. It doesn’t look happy, and it was not supposed to look that way. Which of the two would you prefer? Happy or Brooding?
When we deny ourselves a swath of color, we deny ourselves a simple joy, all for the sake of convenience. That, my friends, is sadder than sad.
I recall reading once that white was the most popular color on Chevrolets from 1960-69. That probably included some fleet cars, but white was big at retail. I wonder if White’s share is bigger now just because of the smaller number of choices as time has gone on.
There was a very effective advertising campaign begun by Audi in the late 90s which used these shiny chromatic silver and grey colour schemes. Audi was a very aspirational brand at the time.
Silver grey metallic is also the colour of road dirt so your car doesn’t look dirty so quickly.
Today’s younger people are measurably more risk averse and conformist than previous generations, hence the herd swarm to not stand out. As noted above, the utter lack of character seen in modern house interiors is symptomatic.
It’s bad enough that cars look so much alike.
Throw in the “fade to gray” colors and they look even more alike to the average person. My “favorites” are the midnight or Blackout editions where everything, including company ID and model logos are black.
Makes me really want to go out and replace my car with one that looks like the one I currently own.
To each his own.
Two points –
We bought a 2017 CPO Mazda CX-5 in 2018 in a very vivid metallic red. Only when I saw the original window sticker after we brought it home, did I learn that this particular color was an extra-cost ($800?) option. While ignorance was bliss for us and I don’t know how much that color factored into the CPO deal, I would have been hard-pressed to justify the cost of that color on a new car, where I would have presumably caught that beforehand.
Also – the 2020 Challenger offers a (relatively) broad palate of colors, including Hot Mango and Hellraison. It’s nice to see Dodge extending the nostalgic magic carpet ride that is the Challenger, to color choices.
Make that “Hellraisin”
My Challenger is boring silver. Color is at the bottom of my priorities, and cheap is at the top.
You could have done very well if you wanted a Challenger T/A 392 a couple of years ago. Silver with black stripes, loaded, it sat and sat at a local dealer, the price kept going down. If you showed any interest, they would hit your email with pleas to come in and talk about it, or call you if you were stupid enough to give them your phone number.. My friend almost bit on it, but he just hated silver and the black stripes and passed. He ended up with Yellow Jacket.
Inside, I want nothing but black/dark gray. No color inside, and no two toned interiors, ever.
I struck my own personal blow against grayscale a few weeks ago.
I think a lot of the “graying” is simply due to the ordering practices of dealers. Last summer, a friend and I went to a dealer about 125 miles away to pick up his wife’s new Ram Rebel pickup. It came from a small dealership, and after we got there, I noticed something strange, the lot was full of gray, white, black, and silver vehicles. There were only two actual colored vehicles on the lot! One was the Ram we were picking up (red and black), and the other was a B5 Blue Charger Scatpack. I asked the salesman about the lack of color, and he said the only reason the Charger was blue was because it was ordered for a customer and the deal fell through. “The bosses rarely order cars in a real color!”. I thought back to the Durango my local dealer had. It was brown and sat on the lot for months and months. They made me a couple of crazy great offers to buy it, but no brown for me. Finally, it ended up being a demo and loaner car. I got it once and didn’t really like it. The pinging 5.9 was my main complaint, other than the color.
Years later, ’17-18 to be exact, I was looking at Challenger Scat Packs, and it seemed like if they were optioned correctly at all the local dealers, they were an awful color like Destroyer Gray, or F8 Green, or just boring white/black/silver. Lower end cars were in a rainbow of shades but higher end ones were rarely any real color. I had to go about 55 miles to Detroit area dealerships to find cars I actually wanted to buy, or over 100 miles away at an Ohio dealership. Finding the car I wanted in the right color was simple,once I got away from the Toledo area.My last 3 cars were (’08 Charger R/T) black, ’10 Challenger R/T (Hemi Orange), and (’18 Challenger Scatpack) TorRed. I’m done with gray/silver forever.I always wanted my vehicles to be a potent color. Any that weren’t were due to getting too good a deal on black or whatever to pass up.
Two basic thoughts: Bring back NON-metallics. Besides red, white and black, non-metallic colors jump/pop/excite. Think BRG or the battleship gray of the TT or the badass colors the Xterra and Crosstrek came/come in. Also, allegedly, yellow adds more to resale than any other color.
Commercial vans are stuck in a whiteout. It’s surprising with the ascention of the Sprinter in affluent communities that the Transit, Nissan van and Ram haven’t more aggressively jumped from the banality of white. I bought a silver Nissan high-roof van for our business and probably paid too much but just to have a non-white van, it was way worth it. Oddly, with 27 vehicles in my past, this one probably gets more compliments than any of the others, save, perhaps the red Volvo 122s I once had.
I found my base 2007 Ford f150 on the dealers lot in this beautiful color.
Though some cars look rather good in plain ol’ white.