Cars

How Car Companies Choose Paint Colors

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If you’re able to match your car’s paint to your Berluti briefcase, please disregard this story and let your assistant continue customizing your next Rolls-Royce. For the rest of us, choosing an exterior paint isn’t much of a choice. You get what you get on the lot, and often it’ll be white, gray, or black. So who decides what colors our cars wear, and why? We spoke with PPG, a leading automotive paint supplier, to find out.

What colors are most popular?

The plainest ones—whites, grays, silvers, blacks—made up three-quarters of worldwide new-car sales in 2015. This, despite PPG research that has found nearly 60 percent of potential buyers consider the color of their new car as a “major factor” when shopping. Like staging a home, it’s easiest to sell any car in neutral, inoffensive tones, and that’s what most dealers do. It’s not uncommon to find half a dozen shades of gray on a lineup of luxury cars yet only one red or blue.

Can boring colors look hot?

Yes; it’s all about how the automaker applies the paint. Some colors are created with a metallic base coat under a tinted clear-coat. Others combine the primer with the base coat. Still others use a deeper-looking, three-layer process wherein the first coat is stripped of all mica and aluminum, the second coat adds them in the middle, and then the clear-coat is applied. Whether it’s a mirror finish or an intense sparkle, the specific process can make otherwise ordinary shades more intriguing.

Why do certain colors become popular?

PPG looks at everything colored—architecture, clothing, electronics, nature—and lets automakers pick from a new round of color palettes every year. These colors, adjusted for each automaker’s preferences, won’t go into production for another three years.

What’s on the horizon?

Right now, browns, oranges, and golds are garnering attention. Lighter blues are making a comeback. Two-tone and matte finishes, almost exclusively for exotic cars just a few years ago, are trickling into the mainstream. Trace amounts of color-shifting pigments, in which precisely layered metallic flakes create subtle, multiple hues, are also popular.

Can I expect my paint to last?

With proper owner care, automakers expect their paint finishes to last without dulling or fading for at least 10 years.

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