The hot hue of the future is being decided now

Color schemes
Milestones in paint and enabling technology for DuPont, PPG and BASF
1924 — Nitrocellulose lacquer paint developed by DuPont. When applied with the just-invented spray gun, the time required to paint a vehicle dropped to only a few hours.
1934 — Ditzler, soon to become part of PPG, develops faster-drying synthetic enamels
1956 — DuPont develops acrylic lacquer, enabling a glossy finish without buffing
1970 — BASF suspends mica flake in paint, providing pearlescent finishes
1972 — DuPont introduces first commercial water-based finishes
1976 — PPG develops cationic (electrodeposition) coatings for cars. First use is as primer, but opened door to colors and clear coats.
1988 — BASF introduces waterborne, clear-coat metallic colors
1991 — BASF’s tinted clear coat first used by Cadillac and Lincoln. DuPont introduces the first coatings resistant to acid rain. 1995 — BASF is first with “color shift” paint as seen on Ford’s Mystic Cobra Mustang
1998 — PPG develops powder paint clear coat Top colors Here are the most popular colors for North American-built 2000-model vehicles by segment Luxury 1. White metallic 2. Silver 3. Black 4. Light brown 5. White Full/intermediate 1. Silver 2. White 3. Black 4. Medium/dark green 5. Light brown Sport/compact 1. Silver 2. Black 3. White 4. Light brown 5. Medium/dark green Truck 1. White 2. Silver 3. Medium/dark blue 4. Black 5. Medium/dark green Source: DuPont Automotive

Here’s a tip you can bet on: In about three years, auto dealerships will carry vehicles with flashes of brilliance and a tactile, organic quality to their finishes.

That’s the forecast from the world’s wizards of color, who last month completed the second of their biannual summits. And what they predict for the world of color usually holds true for the automotive world a few years later.

The nonprofit club is called the Color Marketing Group, with administrative offices in Alexandria, Va.

Becoming a member involves more than just writing the annual $670 membership check. One must prove qualifications in both education and employment. And there should be other relevant experiences. In the auto world, that means being the chief color officer at an automaker or at a paint supplier.

About 50 of the group’s 1,700 members are associated with the auto business.

Sometimes a forecast is straightforward. In the late 1980s, for example, the forecasters said green would be popular in the next decade. At the time, few vehicles were green.

Seeing green

By 1994, green was the most popular choice for cars built in North America, according to an annual survey by DuPont Automotive. And green was the second most-popular choice on light trucks.

Later in the decade, as the forecasts predicted, those greens spawned a popular niche color for cars: teal.

Even then, a color that is attractive on a haute couture fashion model from a New York or Paris salon isn’t necessarily going to play well on a car. Developing colors for cars is evolutionary, and many voices are involved.

It didn’t start out that way. In 1914, Henry Ford’s edict for the Model T — any color as long as it’s black —

wasn’t just obstinacy. Painting a motor vehicle in that era was time consuming. It took at least a full week for a black car and twice as long for colors.

By 1926, paint more suited to mass production had been developed. It probably was no accident that at this same time automakers were forming design departments.

Little persuasion

Today a design team styles and shapes each vehicle — but it holds little sway over what colors the creation will wear.

Those color decisions are a result of many influences.

Though consensus rules, the Color Marketing Group forecast is a starting point. At group conferences, each attendee is assigned to a workshop. Each gives a presentation and makes recommendations on future trends.

Each workshop group arrives at a consensus recommendation, which then goes to a steering committee. The process is repeated until there is a consensus, which is issued as the forecast.

From there, according to Color Marketing Group literature, colors from the final consensus palette “usually are not applied exactly as shown, but are varied to fit market and technical requirements.”

How a color is adopted

Marilyn White, international director of color for PPG Industries Inc. in Troy, Mich., and a Color Marketing Group member, describes how a forecast is translated into the marketplace.

The first to try a new color are the haute couture fashion houses and the most exclusive interior design firms.

After all, it only takes a matter of months to produce new dyed fabrics. An even wider audience sees these as trend presentations on the pages of fashion and design magazines.

The makers of cheaper clothing and cosmetics — as well as makers of toys, furniture, wallpaper and wall paint — give the public a chance to register a reaction.

Makers of anything — large and small, trade and consumer — incorporate these forecast colors into their products, thus turning the forecast into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Meanwhile, automotive paint suppliers are doing lab work.

Jim King, a Color Marketing Group member and head of long-range pigment technology and color styling at DuPont Automotive in Troy, says it is the technology and pigment research that enable changes in colors and special effects, such as a pearlescent quality.

BASF Corp.’s color manager, Jon Hall, formerly a Color Marketing Group member who also was a director of the organization, echoed the importance of the early development. By the time paints are presented to paint suppliers’ auto manufacturing clients, some will have been tested for adhesion, spray qualities and wear.

Others may not be that far along in development for production consideration, but they might be ready to test for public reaction on show cars.

Longer-lasting car colors

The colors used on vehicles generally reflect longer-term trends. Those colors — or hues and tones of colors — that survive the marketplace on smaller, less costly items may find their way onto sheet metal.

Christine Dickey heads color and trim at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. She also has belonged to the Color Marketing Group for more than a dozen years and is a board member.

The role she plays at Toyota typifies the role of color specialists at various manufacturers. She says the job is part education and part persuasion.

An automotive paint shop is usually set up to spray about 10 colors. There are commitments for the basics — red, black, blue, silver, brown or beige and white. The shade or tone of a color might be open for discussion and change, but introducing an entirely new color almost always seems to meet some resistance.

The color specialist’s job is to build a strong case for that new color, or, in the case of the most recent forecast, the new facet of color.

More organic colors

Part of the forecast from the Color Marketing Group’s meeting last month in Dallas, predicts, “more organic and complex and sophisticated colors with light values, soft but complex.”

In automotive terms, says Dickey, “organic will mean more enduring colors with chameleon qualities. Paints will be touchy as well as visual with something in them to make them have variety and a tactile quality. “For example, there might be an optical layer, such as lenticular aluminum, to give a bright flash.”

In addition, following on the trend toward textured paints for house interiors, we can anticipate a tactile quality to auto paints in another few years.

The need for secrecy keeps anyone from revealing details. But the consensus is that we should watch for more interesting reds in the short term, some new tints to silvers and blues, and — if the chemists can pull it off — those touchy, feely finishes.

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