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November 27, 2017

How Do Carmakers Pick a Car Color?

When creating a new car color, designers have to look at a diverse range of societies and predict how changing moods will affect color preferences. The designers then combine that with knowledge of how trends in design disciplines are changing to create colors that look on-trend, nearly half a decade after they were developed.

The design process typically starts four years ahead of a vehicle going on sale, with designers researching trends across the major design disciplines. “Our designers regularly get together and we look at what’s happening in architecture, products and interiors,” said Emily Lai, Design Manager, Color and Materials Design for Ford in Asia Pacific.

Once the design team has a feel for where design trends are heading, they must become social scientists. “Color choice doesn’t just reflect your personality, it also acts as a reflection of the circumstances around you,” explained Lai. “If you’re amongst a lot of pressure and stress for example, it will affect your choices and moods.”

A clear example of this came after the 2008 financial crisis, when economic concerns drove people to worry more about the resale value of cars. As a result, conservative colors dominated vehicle sales, as buyers tended to prioritize appeal to future owners over self-expression.

The financial crisis also drove ‘safe’ color choices as a reflection of the mood of the time. Ostentatious colors would be confronting, even disrespectful to your fellow citizens

While the financial crisis affected much of the globe, every year brings unique shifts and changes in the cultures that make up Asia Pacific. China in particular, is a country where people’s attitudes and values are changing fast along with the pace of development, in the last couple of years this has meant white becoming less popular as car owners become more confident, expressing themselves with different colors. In India, the hot climate makes lighter colors more popular. In Thailand, white shows significant growth during the past five years, but black is still the most popular one.

Religion, politics, and values are different in each country, making the job of people who predict car color trends especially tricky.

Additionally, it’s not just socioeconomic conditions which influence color trends, the type of car plays a part too. Large sedans are associated with business and luxury, so developing a hot pink, for instance, would be a waste of time. Smaller sedans are family cars, so fresh and inviting whites appeal. SUVs nod to the outdoors lifestyle, so natural bronzes and coppers have been performing well. Pickup trucks have traditionally been seen as rugged workhorses, so bright shades haven’t sold as well, though that has begun to change with the recent trend for higher-end lifestyle targeted pickup trucks, evidenced by the popularity of the Ford Ranger Wildtrak in Pride Orange.

“Ford’s vehicle lineup in Asia Pacific is very diverse, and a color that performs well on one vehicle in one market won’t necessarily perform as well in a different country,” said Lai. “It’s a challenge that keeps us on our toes.”

Across most vehicle types, there are staple colors that don’t often change. These include whites, blacks, and solid colors like reds. These colors perform consistently so aren’t often updated. But periodically, advances in paint technology make changing the color worthwhile. Changes in car design also have an impact. “The shapes of cars and ways of using materials change, and different paints respond differently to that,” said Lai. This means as car shapes become more dynamic and sporty, expressive colors will be popular for their ability to complement the exciting vehicle forms.

Staying on the pulse of design trends across multiple different cultures is a real juggling act, but that just makes the success stories even sweeter. One particular success story took Lai by surprise: Archon Bronze, a color she helped create for the China-only Escort. “My biggest surprise was that Archon Bronze became the second highest selling color on the Escort,” said Lai. “I think it hit the mark for a family car because it’s not as dark as black or gray, and it has a gold highlight.” Lai also helped to develop a second new color for the Escort called Shadow Gold, which went on to become the third-best-selling color for the car; an unusually good result for two newly developed shades.

Lai and her colleagues are constantly working on what’s next. Happily, it seems like the gloom of the financial crisis might finally be a thing of the past. “We’re noticing with the younger generation there is a sign of optimism that comes from a faith in technology, and that will bring in a lot more bright colors,” said Lai. “There will be bright colors for sportier vehicles, and there will be a trend coming through with accents too, where one or more parts of the car are a different.

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