By on July 15, 2011

According to an infographic in the WSJ, based on research undertaken by Hyundai-Kia, the US doesn’t just buy a huge number of vehicles… we buy our cars a greater diversity of colors than any other market in the world. Sure, silver, grey, black and white still make up just over 60% of our new cars, but amazingly that’s one of the lowest percentages among large markets. By comparison, those four colors represent a whopping 885 of all new cars sold in South Korea. China and Japan buy 79% and 78& of their cars in those four colors respectively, but China is the only nation represented with a significant proportion of yellow cars sold, at 3%. Why? I’d guess it has something to do with the fact that yellow was once forbidden from buildings and garments, reserved for the Imperial family by sumptuary law (although it could be a more recent craze for “Bumblebee” edition Camaros). Meanwhile, India and US have the highest rates of (literally) green cars, at four percent, Europe has the blues, with 18% ordered in that color, and red-blooded Americans still buy the most red cars at 12%.  And with a full 9% of new cars purchased in a color not represented here, the US has the most offbeat car colors as well… a distinction that seems fitting to our individualistic, car-worshipping culture.

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60 Comments on “A World Tour Of Car Color Choices...”


  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    You know it might just be wishful thinking, but I feel like we’re starting to see more colorful colors lately. About time too! Nothing catches your eye quite like a red car in a sea of silver. It’s also nice to see brown making a comeback, although I think it can be a little hit or miss depending on the model.

    One color that seems to be getting a lot of play that I’m not a fan of is that coppery/rusty orange you see on a lot of cheapo brands. Just terrible in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I too feel that color is making a bit of a comeback. Thank god too.

    • 0 avatar
      LeeK

      I’ve always thought that the endless procession of black/gray/silver cars we’ve been seeing for the past five years have been a reflection of our economic malaise. Now, it just may be people are growing tired of the dullness and want to spice up their lives a little bit. I say bring it on…

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    One thing I have decided about my next car is that it definitely won’t be black, silver, or gray. It probably won’t be white either.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      The only way I’ll settle for a new white automobile will be if I can also secure the “hakugei” vanity plate for it.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Depends on the car for me. Smaller, sportier cars look good in white, large cars, not so much. I really like the GTI in white, just classic. My next car will not be silver as my last 2 cars were silver and I am sick of it. However, silver is one of the more forgiving colors as far as dirt and paint defects go.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        I’m not usually a huge fan of flat whites (though I do like the pearl whites) but sports cars in white with black or red interiors are very sharp.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      @Ubermensch
      My current Ford is metallic grey and I’m very tired of it as well. Our other car, a Subaru, is a light green metallic that I still like.

  • avatar
    Advo

    I find a monochromatic world to be just a tad boring.

    What are the preferences for car interiors, I wonder? Maybe that will make up for the staid, conformal exterior choices.

    That Toyota designed for the Indian market surprised me with the colorful red seats even though it’s built to be inexpensive. I thought that North American models didn’t use much color in large part because it costs more to make seemingly minor variations to the interiors.

    I hope that Fiat/Chrysler can bring European design flair for colored accents in their interiors over here.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Sadly most interior color choices are limited to safe combinations, regardless of customer preference. Playing around with exterior and interior color selectors from the manufacturers reveals how little choice the buyer is given regarding how “their” vehicle can look. I cannot order a Kia Soul with a manual transmission, “Alien” or “Ignition” paint, and that wonderful, busy red/black interior. Call it a fashion disaster, but there are times when I really like chromatic vibration.

      While I can understand the need for visual safety in a leased automobile, any special order for direct purchase should allow the customer to open the floodgates and play mix and match with whatever is available across the product line. And the entire industry should embrace paint-to-sample, especially in the USA: one look at a modern custom car show or a quick stroll through the ubiquitous weekend show-n-shines held around the country will reveal just how colorful we want our cars to be, especially when we love them.

      And when it comes to their choices, South Koreans are clearly the laziest: silver is the color which shouts to the world “I enjoy going for weeks without washing my car.”

      • 0 avatar
        DXBTaurus

        i am not surprised about the Korean preference for silver, and its nothing to do with laziness. Most Koreans I met are happy to work 12 hours a day, and then spend the rest of the day at bars or playing online games, so where will they find time to wash their cars?

  • avatar
    pannkake

    European cars used to be a lot more colorful. Safety orange Volvo anyone? (I’d drive one)

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Remembering that color Volvo means you may also remember when then-Datsun screwed up in their color predictions and flooded the light pickup truck market with bright orange 720s. My father bided his time and then scored an excellent deal on a nice standard cab model simply by going in, test driving one and then saying, “I want one – but in any color but orange.” I already knew he didn’t give a damn about the color choice at the time, but it was an easy way to get a good price out the door.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      I am a sucker for just about anything orange as it is my favorite color.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Yeah! Taste the ^$=#%&*+@~ing rainbow, baby!

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    I’d really, REALLY love to see some data for the past ~25 years… with the rise in beige and dark metallic green in the late 90’s…

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    I don’t see a whole lot of dark metallic green anymore, which is a shame, it looks good on a lot of cars. The only vehicles Ford offers it on now are the E-Series and F-Series Super Duty.

    Generally speaking the more exciting colors seem to be available on the more youth-oriented cars, like the Fiesta, Mustang, and Focus, and Escape, but sometimes a cool color makes its way into a higher priced offering as well.

    Ford is swapping in and out a lot of colors for the 2012 model year due to the Japanese tsunami and supply chain interruptions. Red Candy, which is by far the most popular non-white/silver/grey/black shade, was briefly unavailable and that made some customers very upset, thankfully it’s coming back soon.

    Color choice is effected by climate as well. India is mostly pretty warm, and I have a feeling that is why black isn’t super popular (a lot of India being un- or poorly-paved and lots of dust kicking about probably makes black, which is hard to keep looking clean, unpopular as well). In FL white, silver, and beige are probably the most popular choices, with black being a deal killer for a lot of customers.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      I’m still giving a local dealer a hard time regarding the Flex and lack of a good green paint for it. Though it’s definitely a bit boring to have the colors match the house, my home currently sports S-W’s 7012 “Creamy” for the exterior, 6475 “Country Squire” for the window trim and doors and a medium grey roof to visually tie everything together with the wraparound, pre-weathered grey plastiwood deck. Medium to dark green exterior, white roof cap and a grey leather interior looks like a winning combination to my eyes.

      And “Ginger Ale Metallic” is not a color.

      • 0 avatar
        NulloModo

        I like your combo, though I might go green with a silver roof and the black interior.

        I haven’t seen the Ginger Ale Metallic in person yet. There’s always a demand for a non-offensive goldish beige color though, so I’m sure it will do well. Ford did come out with a color called Amber Gold a couple of years ago that was a more intense gold shade, but hardly anyone bought it. It’s a shame, I liked that color.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Lava Red for the Mustang is one of my favorite car colors to come out recently.

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      “Color choice is effected by climate as well. India is mostly pretty warm, and I have a feeling that is why black isn’t super popular (a lot of India being un- or poorly-paved and lots of dust kicking about probably makes black, which is hard to keep looking clean, unpopular as well).”

      I don’t buy that as some sort of universal law considering the popularity of black cars in China (both anecdotally and statistically as shown above) even with the uneven road conditions and high amount of dirt road driving done there. It could be that China shows a predisposition to black cars due to conditioning (government officials were the only ones driving cars for a long time and they were always black) or a naivete when it comes to automotive decisions – a first time car buyer in a society where cars were not readily available up until ten years ago won’t necessarily factor in the heat and maintenance premiums associated with black paint.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      Dark metallic green is known as “no sale green” to used car dealers.

  • avatar
    tech98

    Yellow has some kind of significance in Chinese culture. A stereotype I’ve heard regarding Asians in Australia is that they “drive yellow cars”. Maybe someone can enlighten.

  • avatar

    Porsche has the best and most various colors.

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    Being in the car painting biz, I have a real appreciation for white (NOT pearl white) it’s very bright and clean and hides a lot. Silver is too common and awfully boring to me, until I did a car in Mercedes Alpine Rain Effect – that is amazing. Ford Tuxedo black is another good one.
    There are some very interesting new colors out there though, and that goes for all the manufacturers. Ok maybe except for Honda – they must have made 80% of the Accords silver, until recently, they seem to be obsessed with polished metal now.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Merc had a different bluish-tinted semi-metallic silver that was pretty amazing, too. My friend built a motorcycle and had it painted with that, and it was jaw-dropping in the sun.

      The problem is that most silvers are just metallic gray…

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    My last two cars were beige. As much as I liked them, I could never be crazy about them due to the color. Too blah. Had they had a contrasting interior, in brown or burgudy, like they used to do a couple decades ago…that would have been better. I wanted that badly enough that I considered making the change myself.

    Then I bought my current car in a very nice shade of green, and I never tire of looking at it. Depending on the time of day, the way the light strikes the car, or especially when it’s raining, allows for different shades of green, grey, silver, even blue. I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.

    Still, I wish they’d throw us different interior colors. Beige, gray, and black are fine. But I miss the reds, blues, and greens we used to be able to enjoy. Can it really be that difficult or expensive?

  • avatar
    65corvair

    Back in the old days, my 65 Corvair had about eighteen exterior color choices and seven interior. The cheaper Corvair models had three interior color choices.

    • 0 avatar
      tiredoldmechanic

      Marina Blue with a black interior. Best combo ever. Yeah, Ok it’s a ’66 combo.

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      Yup, 1965 was a peak for Chevrolet in many ways, number of units built and model/color/powertrain options. 15 solid and nine two-tones, plus eight interior colors for the Impala line.

      How about a 327/300hp/Powerglide Impala SS convertible in Evening Orchid with a white interior and black top, no? Then maybe an Artesian Turquoise over Tahitian Turquoise Biscayne wagon with aqua interior, Turbo-Thrift Six and Three-on-the-tree with Overdrive?

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I’ve had several colorful cars in my day.

    My first car, a well weathered 1968 Chrysler Newport had that light metallic blue, though this one had a touch of green in it for a turquoise like effect, would’ve been MUCH better had it been restorable or I had been able to repaint it.

    I had that rust/copper color on my ’74 Nova that faded out badly when the wax job needed refreshing (early acrylic/Enamel paint), then a buttery yellow ’78 Nova (had the beige vinyl interior), then an ivory (Honda called it Oslo Ivory) non metallic paint on my ’83 Honda Civic, then that gold/silver metallic color Honda called Seattle Silver on my ’88 Accord and now I have the Calypso Green paint on my 92 Ford Ranger.

    Some colors I’d have gotten if I had been seeking certain new cars in the 80’s. Magenta, found on the 1994 Chevy S-10 or the purple, ditto the purple on the Rangers or the current Magenta on the Fiesta and some of the more interesting shades of blue as well as red, yellow and some shades of brown but would like to see more paint colors come in the NON metallic paints (with clearcoat though) I also love chartreuse as a car color or preferably the colors found on cars back in the 50’s would be so much fun (yeah, love color) and let’s bring back the fun 2 tone colors such as red/white, putty and beeswax or chartreuse/white/pink or something fun like that. :-)

  • avatar

    My favorite color on a car I’ve owned, so far, is a three-way tie:

    -1985 Mercedes-Benz 300D, burgundy red. Not sure of the name — I saw “Pajett Red Metallic” on a forum, which looks about right and sounds like a properly snooty M-B paint color.

    -1994 Saturn SL2 “Homecoming” car, pearl white. The same silver-tint pearl used on Cadillacs of this vintage, which to my eye always looked classier than the gold-tint pearls used by other makes.

    -2004 Pontiac Grand Am, Navy Blue Metallic. A very “deep” color with a lot of flop in it, depending on ambient light and angle. Also a surprisingly difficult color to mix right.

    As for my least favorite, it’s no contest: the Pebble Ash Metallic on my 6, the most generic of beiges. In low light, the gold metallic flops too closely to green for my liking, and it doesn’t look quite “right” against silver painted aluminum wheels. At least it blends in with the surroundings here in New Mexico!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Silver and white have to be the most boring colors you can choose. Well, maybe the beige color that Toyota and GM seemed to apply on almost everything would be the most boring. That said, I bought a car in Rio Red (no doubt a color that Nullo is familiar with) and while red looks great, it tends to fade if the car is always outside.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Rio Red was a bit before my time with Ford, but a Google search shows that it looks very close to what they call Race Red or Vermillion Red now. Mazda has a similar flat intense red called True Red that looked killer on the Mazdaspeed 3 (especially the ’08 or ’09 model that had the black mesh over dark red upholstery inside).

      Automotive paint has improved a lot in recent years, but yes, the sun can still fade it over time if you have to park in the direct sun and don’t put some good UV protectant wax or polish on it regularly.

  • avatar
    sco

    Another thing that has taken a hiatus in american tastes in cars is the two-tone paint scheme. Used to quite common, even in pick-ups. Making a bit of a comeback in squarer vehicles such as the Mini-Cooper and the Ford Flex but I’d like to see more of it. Anything as an alternative beige and silver cars (and houses) is welcome in my book. I live in a beige house and drive a silver car – is this you ?

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Interesting point. I have a friend who two-tones every car he buys, new or used, but somehow it never occurred to me that it just isn’t really a manufacturer option any more.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      You’re going to love my color choices for the nearly completed custom car project. For the base coat, Emerald Jewel Metallic from the ’06 Saturn Sky. For the stripe along the side and up the B pillar, Ford’s Tuxedo Black from their ’11 color catalog. In blocks running up the B-pillar part of the stripe, Yellow Blaze Metallic, also from Ford’s ’11 color catalog. I balked at first when I learned the proposed clear coat was going to cost about 2-3x what the paints cost, but when I was given a tour of different custom paint jobs in various states of age and decay or pristine condition, I opted for the good stuff. I don’t want that top coat to become a cloudy veil after 3 years.

  • avatar
    M 1

    The only car color I will never, ever understand is brown.

    I once saw a brown Ferrari. I believe the Italian branch of INTERPOL is still looking for him.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      I can’t imagine a brown Ferrari, but this is big brown sexy.

      These guys also have a healthy appreciation for the brown:

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        My buddy has a 2011 Dodge 2500 in a similar color scheme. I was calling him “John Wayne” all day after he showed up with that. To me, it has an “old western” vibe.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        The John Wayne comment nailed it: that’s the warm color of well worn and cared for saddle leather.

        My father drove a ’65 Mercedes 220 for 13 years, only selling it when the family moved to a neighbor island out of well founded maintenance concerns. At the 6 year mark, the original dove grey finish was replaced with a chocolate brown and it made that sedan look even more inviting.

        I can see a Ferrari 465 looking good in a nice metallic brown: it’s easier to envision their occasional 4 seater in earth tones than their smaller models.

  • avatar
    360joules

    I love that copper orange metallic color that was so popular 5-6 years ago. My wife and I almost bought a 350Z in spite of the harshness and poor human factors of the interior. “This thing makes that Lotus thing we drove seem smooth and refined,” said my bride.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I’m not buying it. We don’t have colorful cars, except in a relative sense. Ok, the Koreans and Japanese are even more boring than we are – that does not make us colorful.

    How about a choice of Turquoise with a whiter roof? How about 2 or 3 greens that used to be available. Or 3 or 4 Blues. A couple shades of red. At least 2 yellows, if not more. All these things used to be available, and of course, could be combined in 2 or 3 tone schemes. If they could do it in the ’50s, I can’t really believe they can’t do it now.

    And how about some upholstery colors, I mean besides black, gray, and tan.

    • 0 avatar
      jerseydevil

      Yes, I loved all the shades of blue, yellow, green abd red there were around in the past. I want a yellow cadillac. Or that gorgeous light green color on the 70’s coupe deville. There are none. There is a light green, i dont like it. Can you imagine?

  • avatar
    GiddyHitch

    MINI seems to offer a nice variety of colors that stand out in a sea of monochromatics, or at least they have a clientele willing to purchase them. The problem with automotive colors is that the designers are so heavy handed with intensity in order to presumably make a big impression with potential customers and passersby that one quickly tires of them in short order and they reveal themselves to be immature and overwrought in the long term. I would much prefer more sophisticated and delicate colors that take longer to appreciate. The Breakwater Blue color on our second gen Lexus RX is one such color (while the silver on the same vehicle looks very flat and unexciting somehow). Off the top of my head, I also dig the Electric Blue offered on the first gen MINI Cooper, the metallic red from the first gen G35 sedan, Carbon Black (dark navy blue metallic) on the E46 M3, and Toxic Orange from the new Dodge Charger (where did Michael’s review go?) from the last decade of cars.

    • 0 avatar
      mazder3

      It was Alex’ review and for whatever reason not listed in the Dodge listings:

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-dodge-charger-rt-take-two/

  • avatar
    mazder3

    I’ve always had a thing for blue cars. My parents ’86 Cavalier was Medium Blue Metallic with grey sill extensions. It always looked sporty. Ford’s paint code LE, available on the ’87-95 F2/350s, was this beautiful deep blue and also looked good two-toned with grey. The 2000 S-Class had a baby blue pearl (tricoat?) that would flop yellow, dark blue and white. Really striking. My Mazda is Phantom Blue Metallic. Interesting color, as it can either be blue or green depending on the available light and the angle. Not quite Harlequin, but nice nonetheless.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    It seems like Gold cars are slipping away, it is not possible to get a gold Subaru any more. Toyota has also somewhat limited their Golds, that was my favorite color.

    I do like dark metallic green and the old “Classic” Subaru Green/Gold two tone. Both by themselves are good too.

    As for interiors, Black, Tan and Grey are the best. They are easy on the eyes and hide wear well.

    It’s a shame that so many cool classic cars had to have ugly Blue and Burgundy interiors (they make me , nauseous, not kidding).

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    Without turning this into a “Which came first…the chicken, or the egg?” sort of discussion, dealers and buyers both have a role to play in the avoidance of colors that are not perceived as “safe.”

    No dealership wants to be stuck with the interest charges for an unusually-colored unit to sit on the lot, and you can’t blame them. And by the same token, some buyers are leery of unusual colors from the perspective of resale, and to a lesser extent, ease of touchups and minor repairs.

    For some reason I tend to prefer flat whites with a tan interior, perhaps because that was the color combination of my first car; getting into a white vehicle on a 107F/43C-degree day seems more bearable, and it’s easy to fix minor chips – so much so, I can usually do it myself. Not so for the pearl white Nissan that’s my daily driver; my understanding is that a proper repair requires three separate steps.

    That being said, one of the best deals I ever made was at the very end of the 1996 model year, when I picked up a new, base-model Maxima in “Platinum Iris” for peanuts, and proceeded to drive it 200,000 miles/320,000km over the next nine years. When you’re selling or trading a well-maintained car of that age, most buyers aren’t too picky about the color; it also helped that the purplish hue had faded out to what passed as silver metallic.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      What you said is spot on. Most cars are still available in at least 5-8 shades but most dealers order the big 3 (Black/white/grey) and the brand’s signature color or next largest production. Nissan lives and dies by that 350/370Z metallic orange and it honestly looks good on everything I’ve spotted it on. Though as I went to look up it’s actual name it seems to have been replaced by a burgundy color.

      Regardless, I want to know how many cars minus fleet and rental are really being sold in white and silver. It seems like most fleet cars are white because it’s easier to put a magnetic or sticker sign on them for background reasons and most rentals end up silver because you can shill them quickly. I suspect individual buyers tend towards black, red, and tan more often than we suspect. The new Subaru Legacy in Beige is a killer. I’m debating about getting a new one in that shade.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    I saw my first Fiat 500 yesterday. YEAAAAA!!! it was gunmetal grey. WAAAAAAA.

    • 0 avatar
      Nostrathomas

      If there’s one car the demands to be in a fun color, it’s a 500. There should be no gray or silver option. Yellow, aqua, baby blue, orange…..anything but gray!

  • avatar
    segfault

    I bet the color choices in the Netherlands are more colorful than the rest of Europe!

  • avatar
    DXBTaurus

    The situation in Dubai is not any different; 65% of all cars are either White or Silver. For some reason, there are absolutely no dark green cars, I havent found one since trying to spot one for the past 1 month.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Look at some new car color chips from the 1950s and you will see that our current selection is rather limited and dull.

    Have a look at the choices one had for a 1958 Chrysler:

    http://www.tcpglobal.com/autocolorlibrary/aclchip.aspx?image=1958-chrysler-pg01.jpg

  • avatar
    JMII

    Look at the color choices Volvo offered the C30 in… http://www.carsdirect.com/2008/volvo/c30/colors similar to the Mini customization was one of the main selling features of the car.

    Colors owned between the wife and I in model years: ’83 Tan, ’85 Red/Grey (two tone), ’88 Black, ’89 Yellow, ’93 Red, ’96 Green, ’96 Black, ’97 Green, ’00 Blue, ’02 Silver, ’08 White.

    My next car: Blue, Orange or Burgundy (350Z), I really want the Orange “Le Mans Sunset”. I bought my truck (’02) in silver on purpose because I knew cleaning it was going to be a low priority and my previous (’96) truck was black and way too hot for South Florida. I personally hate white but our ’08 C30 is a nice pearl off-white “Cosmic White” only because finding a used 6 speed example was hard enough, we pretty much had to give up on getting “Passion Red” which what the wife wanted.

  • avatar
    nikita

    Ive always hated gray, nothing duller. Glad to see it “fade” in popularity here, along with boring silver. Always liked blue and red. Current fleet consists of a white Tundra (only white, gray and black were on the lot), blue Honda Fit and red Karmann Ghia. Interesting side note, gold was used as a neutral color for styling mockups at least at Ford and GM years ago.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I’ve always liked dark blue on cars with slab sided bodies. Our current G6 is that way, in midnight blue. I generally prefer cars with less noticeable colors, due to the fact that I used to like to travel at extra-legal speeds regularly. But as I’ve gotten older, I care less about traveling at warp speed.

    My wife, likes her cars with a lot of color, usually the brighter the better. When we got our 2004 Aztek, it came in a shade of metallic orange called Fusion Orange. In certain sunlight conditions it could look really orange or even a copper color. It was everything I could do to keep her from ordering one of those see-me-from-outer-space yellows that were popular on the Aztek line. The orange was the lesser of two evils, in my mind. There was a slew of Pontiacs painted in that color orange during the mid-00’s, I see plenty of Grand Ams, G6’s, Sunfires painted that way.

    I have a pewter-colored Cavalier as a daily driver. Pewter was that goldish-tinted silver color GM slathered on every car/truck/SUV/ back in the late 90’s-early 00’s. Now, as the clear coat has faded off, it’s getting a neat kind of patina that I really like. It’s like a flat silver kind of color, which sets off my machined uncoated aluminum wheels really well.

    Too bad rust will claim the rest of the body eventually…


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