Why Do Most Americans Want Cars With Characterless Colors?

Turbocharged Lexus engineering | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Turbocharged Lexus engineering | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The car salesman sits across from you, rifling through the sales brochure, grinning from ear to ear like a puppy with a chew toy. A test drive has successfully convinced you that it is time to trade-up for a new set of wheels and this guy is about to make a fat commission check. “So my friend,” he says, “What, eh, what kinda colors ya thinking? You should totally get the green. It looks really good in green.”

Power, luxury, style, ride, safety, and handling shall forever remain key selling points for anyone researching or test driving a car for the first time. But somewhere along the line a pivotal choice must be made, and while it has absolutely nothing to do with performance, reliability, or practicality, one’s preference for paint can influence a sale.

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring Coupe | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring Coupe | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Long gone are the days when “Hugger Orange” made Camaros polarizing because they needed to be the complete opposite of a Ford Mustang in “Grabber Blue,” all while the Hemi ‘Cuda convertible didn’t care what those two did because it was rocking Mopar pistons and a paint job called “Top Banana.” Hell, even during paint’s golden years in the 1950s, it was not uncommon to see “Fiesta Cream” Chevy Bel Airs pull up to the drive-in movie lot alongside “Surf Green” Hudson Hornets. It was a brighter time for everyone, and we had paint schemes to match this American morale.

Sure, there still were a hell of a lot of black, grey, white, and brown cars on the roads back then too, but if you talk with an old school mechanic like John Schweitzer, they will tell you that over the years paint has gotten better in quality, but narrower in spectrum. Not to say that the outgoing Honda Civic Si cannot be found in an exciting “Orange Fire” or “Dyno Blue,” or that one cannot still buy a Mustang GT Premium Fastback in “Triple Yellow,” but one must understand that these are sports cars, and the majority of Americans drive commuter-mobiles. Buyer preference reverts back to cliché colors, and since no one wants to man-up and get the Fusion in “Bronze Fire” or the Fit in “Passion Berry Pearl,” America’s roads often look like nondescript mechanical rivers.

Dodge Challenger Scat Pack | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Dodge Challenger Scat Pack | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

So what happened to the capitalistic consumer culture, with its penchant for performance-oriented transportation? You can’t really blame the automakers — they have diligently been offering us a pallet loaded with colors all this time. Americans began to give up on the notion of invigorating paint jobs and individuality in large numbers decades ago.

By the time the Jeep Wagoneer found itself slathered in vinyl wood siding, the world of vibrant vehicles was being limited to artificial yellow Ferraris and electric red Porsches. As consumers we had gone colorblind, and as millions of Americans tried to ignore the fact that their cars were as lifeless as the rows of suburban houses they bought, all hope seemed to be lost.

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

American station wagon lifestyle | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

If you look at TCP Global’s Auto Color Library it becomes apparent that as a car culture there were quite a few lost decades, with the late 1970s to mid 1990s being the core of it all. Back then, fifty shades of granite grey dominated new car lots, and anyone who opted for a rusted red hue was labeled eccentric by everyone in the neighborhood.

Fortunately, today’s color choices are a hell of a lot better than what we once had to choose from, even though blending-in still seems to be far more of a priority to buyers than standing out. So then why, as a car culture, do we continue to buy cars with boring colors, ignoring the fact that if everyone drove colorful automobiles, it wouldn’t matter?

New Acura NSX | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

New Acura NSX | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

“While white continues to be the most dominant choice in car color, we see growth in the variety of whites being offered to consumers,” says Jane E. Harrington, PPG manager of color styling and automotive OEM coatings. “Car manufacturers are seeking ways to create variations of white, silver, black, and gray that are specific to their brands and that complement different vehicle types.”

So if everyone still wants bland automobiles today, then what does that spell for the colors of tomorrow? According to paint experts PPG Industries, we will  likely see most of the paint for 2016-2017 model years in neutrals, pastels, and bright hues such as “Lapis,” a brilliant gemstone blue.

2017 Ford Focus RS | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

2017 Ford Focus RS | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

There will also be a slathering of artisan colors like “Autumn,” which features a “vivid metallic orange with colored aluminum flake that evokes an image of fall foliage.” Desert sunset shades are slated for a comeback as well, with hues such as “Sunray” offering buyers “an intense yellow tri-coat color with a high-sparkle glass flake.”

Other interesting colors include “Mystic Magenta,” which is a vibrant purple with a unique hue-shift effect, and “Theorem,” a minimal contemporary palette that uses rich brown, red, and deep blue as accents for balanced neutrals such as “Crisp Grey,” a graphite color with a strong highlight of green metallic. So as cars like the all new Civic hatch, Challenger, Focus, and many more hit sales floors with great gusto, we get the feeling that the future is starting to look brighter already.