We took it for granted at the time, but automakers provided us with a cornucopia of lavish colors in the mid-1990s. While dark greens were the most popular hue of the day, there was no shortage of teal, deep red, beige, gold, dark blue, metallic purple, and burnt orange cruising down the boulevard, tempting us like a mobile bag of Wild Berry Skittles.
Then, in 2001, every single car in North America was legally required to be painted silver. It seemed like a neat idea to everyone at the time but, as reality set in, society soon realized its grievous error. Ashamed at our inability to choose correctly, society then decided to abandon color entirely. White returned to take its bland place at the top of the heap in 2006 and has stayed there ever since. Globally, white accounted for 38 percent of all cars manufactured in 2016. America’s current penchant for wild colors like black, silver, and gray lessens its continental death grip to a more-modest 25 percent.
The global obsession with grayscale is supposed to change, however, as blue seems poised for a comeback.
BASF recently told Automotive News that “deep and non-saturated blues” were the shades most requested by manufacturers in its annual color trends report. Although it cited bullshit reasons like young people migrating to cities, a new digital era, and people’s need to reconnect with nature.
“Blue continues to gain strength as an automotive color,” said Paul Czornij, BASF’s head of design for color excellence. “It has a calming effect and a strong correlation with natural things.”
Czornij anticipates blue to overtake white and other non-colors as the most popular choice among car buyers within the next five years. “The expressive part of the car, which is on the outside, is the projection of who you are to the rest of the world,” he explained.
Hippie guru nonsense aide, blue is gaining traction. PPG Industries also shows the color on an industry upswing, at least in North America. In 2012, is surmised blue had roughly 7 percent of the market — but last year it was tied with red at 10 percent. PPG is also pushing specific automotive hues for 2020, especially earthy tones and deep blues.
MarketWatch has also been touting blue as white’s inevitable replacement, citing the color’s versatility as its biggest strength. “You can’t do that with every color. Blue lends itself to an automaker’s customization”, said Jane Harrington, a color pro at PPG for 30 years.
That becomes abundantly clear when you realize how different the influx of blue has been and where you’ve been seeing it. Ford has been pushing blue as a pronounced color on its higher profile cars for a few years and the Focus RS only comes in grayscale or “Nitrous Blue.” It’s the same for a lot of automakers. Subaru still associates the color with the WRX, as does Volvo with Polestar, and BMW with the M3. Even Mercedes-Benz, which is infamous for offering predominantly neutral tones, has added multiple variants of blue to most of its models.
Contrary to Czornij’s claim, this might not be enough to topple white across the globe — especially considering there are very practical reasons to own a pale-colored vehicle in sun saturated cities like Dubai, Bangkok, or Melbourne. However, it could be enough to add a splash of color in an exceptionally bland era or even make blue the new king of North America… someday.
Silver, thankfully, is on its way out, having dropped from 20 percent of the global market to 12 within the last 5 years. Black has also lost a little ground, globally, but remained entrenched in both the United States and Canada (19 percent) in 2016. But blue really isn’t gaining ground quickly enough to fill the void. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more midnight sapphire, navy, sky, and teal automobiles in the future, but white doesn’t appear to be giving up the ghost anytime soon.