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Crazy for color

Right hues mean lots of green to GM, carmakers

Brett Clanton / The Detroit News

Top colors

The most popular vehicle paint color choices in North America

Color 2005 2004

Silver 18% 18%

White/White pearl 17% 16%

Gray 15% 10%

Blue 12% 11%

Black 11% 11%

Red 11% 14%

Light brown 9% 11%

Green 4% 5%

Yellow/gold 2% 2%

Others 1% 2%

Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News

"Blue is going to be the biggest story for '07, '08 and '09," says Christopher Webb, a color designer for GM. A group of GM designers is assigned the task of predicting the trends. The current hot color is silver. See full image

Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News

Terry Elliott, Christopher Webb and Helen Emsley look over color samples at the GM color lab. The designers work to predict color trends for cars. See full image

Have you heard? Blue is making a comeback. Green is so yesterday. And red is moving out of its lowbrow yellowy stage into a richer, blue period.

Or so says a highly specialized team of General Motors Corp. designers whose job it is to predict color trends.

Drawing from pop culture, economic trends and the buying patterns in other industries, the team spends its days trying to solve such riddles as how to make a better silver or what the "new" black will be. But there's at least one big headline in the color world these days.

"Blue is going to be the biggest story for '07, '08 and '09," said Christopher Webb, a color designer who works in an airy studio at GM's Tech Center in Warren that seems light-years away from the factories that build the automaker's cars and trucks.

The notion that a group of designers is paid to ponder the future of red and yellow may be vexing to some at a time when the world's No. 1 automaker is bleeding money, shedding thousands of jobs and closing plants just to survive.

But the business of forecasting color trends may be more important than ever to GM and other automakers.

Research shows that nearly 40 percent of consumers will defect to another brand if they can't find the vehicle color they want -- and GM is not about to miss out on sales simply because it picked the wrong paint color for a new Cadillac or Chevrolet.

In a break from the past, however, GM is trying to be more judicious about how it selects colors for the 9 million vehicles it sends out into the world every year.

The automaker used to think nothing of spending millions on developing slightly different colors for its individual brands and vehicle lines. Now, GM is paring down its international paint palette to help build stronger brand identities and bring more cost-saving uniformity to manufacturing.

At the same time, GM and other automakers are leading the way in developing high-tech finishes that add depth and texture to neutral paint colors, which tend to be the most popular.

Slowly but surely

The greater attention to color comes at a time when consumers are demanding more style from the everyday products they buy. Sharp color and design have suddenly become selling points for everything from kitchen utensils to washing machines at Sears.

But staying current can be tough for automakers, which must lock in vehicle designs and paint color choices about three years before a car or truck hits the market.

"People will sometimes treat us like the fashion industry," said David McKinnon, vice president of design at DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, who oversees the Auburn Hills-based automaker's color lab. "Well, fashion can change in three months. We need three or four years. It's not a fast process."

At GM's color lab in Warren, the small design team just completed color selections for the 2009 model year and has begun working on 2010.

Housed on the second floor of the tech center's design building, the lab is a giant circular room where bulletin boards are covered with magazine clippings. Fashionably dressed workers labor amid a sea of nondescript car models perched on waist-high poles and painted in the dozens of colors GM has at its disposal.

"Gunmetal Metallic," "Lunar Quartz," "Antique Bronze" -- the colors go by a host of names that are printed on tiny labels below each model. But this is just the current lineup. Cabinets and storerooms flanking the lab store color swatches that span GM's nearly 100-year history.

Livelier hues

During a recent visit, the designers were excited about what they see as a "return to color" in vehicle paints and other consumer products such as cell phones and home appliances.

But don't expect an explosion of green, yellow and purple cars on the road in coming years. The trend is more about infusing neutral shades with more color so they have a richer, more complex appearance.

"Believe me, we want to have more colors," said Helen Emsley, GM's global director of design, color and trim.

But at the end of the day, more than 50 percent of consumers still select silver, black, beige or white when they go to buy a vehicle, she said.

To liven up those perennial -- some might say boring -- choices, GM is adding microscopic flakes to the paint that seem to change color in the light. One of the first applications is on the new Cadillac DTS sedan, which comes in a hue-shifting "Titanium" gray that can look almost green, or even violet, at times.

Despite a $1,000 extra charge for the high-tech coating, Titanium now accounts for 9 percent of DTS sales, compared with 6 percent in a regular gray.

But bolder, louder color choices also are gaining strength, particularly as interest grows in vehicle customization.

When Japan's Honda Motor Co. launched its boxy Element SUV in 2003, for instance, a rusty orange quickly became the most popular color choice, luring 20 percent of buyers.

During the past two years, blue broke into the top five vehicle color choices, and red made gains in 2005.

Perception is everything

Experts say color shifts go in cycles and could be driven by an improving economic climate or political and social trends. During the 1990s, for example, when the environmental movement rose to prominence, green was the most popular car color choice. In the past six years, silver has dominated -- a possible nod to the increasing role of technology in daily life.

"Let's face it, there are only seven colors in the spectrum," said Leatrice Eiseman, author of "The Color Answer Book" and executive director of the Pantone Color Institute in Carlstadt, N.J. "But it's what you do to those colors, the way that people perceive of them, that makes the difference."

GM's color designers routinely meet with their counterparts from other industries to ensure they are not blind to trends. Nike, Nokia, Herman Miller -- they've all been to Warren to trade thoughts with the world's largest automaker.

But one of the team's biggest missions in recent years has been to cut the waste and streamline its own processes.

Emsley said that when she took over the studio a few years ago, she asked her team to find every vehicle paint color GM used in North America, and stick a sample of each on a wall in the lab. The tally: 111 colors.

"I remember standing back and looking at this wall and saying, 'What the hell?' " said Emsley, who has since trimmed the number to around 60 colors at a savings of millions per year.

Karen Surcina -- color marketing and technology manager for DuPont Automotive Systems in Troy, one of the world's biggest vehicle paint suppliers -- said it can cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" or more to develop a new color.

But a growing number of industries are willing to pay handsomely if adding more color means drawing more buyers.

In recent years, DuPont has received requests to develop colors for everyone from a golf cart builder to a home window maker. But the oddest inquiry may have come from a casket producer, which hoped to use color to spruce up an otherwise macabre product lineup.

While the company is happy for the business, Surcina said working with coffins would not be her first choice.

"I'd rather put color on cars."

Edited by HarleyEarl

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Silver was awesome until it became the only colour offered on Toyota Corolla's, Camry's and Honda Civic's and Accord's. :rolleyes:

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Yellow and gold combined makes 2%. Proves my point. GM, why the f**k are you putting Sedona Beige on the G6??? And you discontinued Stealth Gray?

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Silver is just one of those colors that looks good on any vehicle. For example, if you had a new Av and new Camaro, red would look good on the Camaro but so so on the Av, while pewter looks great on the Av but would look bland on the Camaro. But silver looks good on both.

Edited by BuddyP

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If you have ever had the chance to look at a parking lot from above, it is amazing how few different colors there are.

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If you have ever had the chance to look at a parking lot from above, it is amazing how few different colors there are.

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In addition, the colors are boring and ugly. Six shades of tan, seven shades of gray, and ubiquitous City Fleet white.

Silver looks good on certain vehicles. Silver, however, is the new white - boring, bland, tasteless, anonymous. What happened to green? Non-blinding red? Firemist gold?

Black looks most any car look good, but its a pain to keep it looking nice.

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If you have ever had the chance to look at a parking lot from above, it is amazing how few different colors there are.

*nods*

So very true. Over a year ago, when I was still working at Sears' headquarters, I happened to look out of our 3rd floor office window one day down at the parking lot. I was a bit shocked at the "dull" sea of greys, blacks, whites and tans that filled the parking lot. I only spotted a few "outlandish" colors of yellow and red dotting the lot.

Aye.

Would be nice to see a few more interior colors, too....

Cort, "Mr MC" / "Mr Road Trip", 32swm/pig valve/pacemaker

MC:family.IL.guide.future = http://www.chevyasylum.com/cort/

Models.HO = http://www.chevyasylum.com/cort/trainroom.html

"I wanna drive" ... Trace Adkins ... '(Her Favorite Color Is) Chrome'

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Black, Blue and Red are my favorite, to me Silver is to bland and predictable if you have a Honda, but I have to say I do see alot of the last gen. Impala's in Silver.

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Black, Blue and Red are my favorite, to me Silver is to bland and predictable if you have a Honda, but I have to say I do see alot of the last gen. Impala's in Silver.

177502[/snapback]

I will second that!!!! black is the worst to keep clean, but when its done right it just looks so damn good :thumbsup:

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I liked bright red as a teenager (which is why my '87 Mustang is bright red), but now prefer silver, dark gray, dark green, dark blue. I like the look of black but wouldn't want to deal with the upkeep. Dark blue is hard enough to deal with..

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Silver was awesome until it became the only colour offered on Toyota Corolla's, Camry's and Honda Civic's and Accord's.  :rolleyes:

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As well as every Audi, Mercedes & VW made in the past 8 years. :huh:

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As well as every Audi, Mercedes & VW made in the past 8 years.  :huh:

177512[/snapback]

Word. Though I saw a bright red SL55 AMG yesterday. HAWT!

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Funny, when I think of VW I see forest green.

177604[/snapback]

I think of Corollas, Camrys, and Subaru Outbacks..dark green is a very popular color around here for some reason on those 3 models...

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Guest YellowJacket894

"Lunar Quartz" and "Antique Bronze" eh? Those are imaginative names for a few colors. I like them. The days of the Sixties when colors had bright and, well, colorful names such as "Firemist Gold," "Inca Silver," "Lake Placid Blue," along with Chrysler's hi-impact paint names known as "Top Banana," "Go ManGo," "SubLime," and, of course, "Plum Crazy" need to make a return.

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If you like purple, check out GM's '07s. There is a purple available. Not certain, but I think Edge and MKX have a purple as well.

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heck, i've always had a few blue cars hanging around. the bonne was blue and the h3 that replaced it is blue. wife's jeep is blue. should have had the sts done in blue chip.

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Color is a funny thing....or lack of color. I find I'm crazy about white on the top models or upscale cars. On lesser or entry level models it looks too 'appliance'. Yesterday saw a Chrysler 300m with massive wheels and mesh grill.....in pristine white....beautiful hot day.......beyond white hot.

And the new Escalades look so good in white:

Posted Image

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Guest YellowJacket894

Purple was a color choice on the 2004 GTO...

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