Color is a critical psychological factor influencing how customers choose cars, says Susan Lampinen, Ford Motor Co. group chief designer for color and materials.
"We do know that color does sell vehicles. We've done market research that shows that if people cannot get the color they want, they will not buy the vehicle and they'll change brands and change companies."
Lampinen says customer taste in automotive colors reflects the mood in the country and around the world.
"During the downturn, we saw darker, more neutral colors," she says. "People wanted something more solid, more stable."
But different people can respond to uncertainty in seemingly contrary ways, Lampinen says.
"When you feel uncertain, you're going to want to do [one of] two things -- pull in and protect and surround yourself" with colors such as deep, dark, rich, smoky reds or blues or blacks, she says. Or the other reaction is to be optimistic, with colors such as Palladium Gold, a new hue Ford will offer for 2017 that is "light, open, warm and inviting," she says.
Pantone, of Carlstadt, N.J., is known for its expertise and consulting on color trends and color matching. Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, the company's research arm, says she has noticed security as an influence in color trends.
"How people respond to it is not easily predictable," she says. "We know it is definitely an issue, and many industries are looking at color and discussing it from that standpoint."
Pantone annually names a color of the year. This year, for the first time, it named two colors: Serenity (blue) and Rose Quartz (pinkish). The two colors reflect the notion that color can have a reassuring effect on people.
"Found in tandem on the runway, on the streets and in nature, Serenity and Rose Quartz evoke calm, stability and comfort even in turbulent times. The seamless union of Serenity and Rose Quartz creates balance in a chaotic world by providing the perfect counterpoint to the fast-paced, fractured and hurried lives we live," according to Pantone.
PPG is now preparing its 2020 color show for carmakers. Will the company continue with a Knight's Watch-style security theme?
Harrington isn't saying. "That's our future product we share with our customers."
One thing's certain: In these turbulent times, the yearning for safety and security isn't going away anytime soon.