I was recently driving down a street in my neighborhood and I saw, parked on the street, like everything was completely normal, a late-model Ford F-150 painted bright yellow. Bright. Yellow.
Since I live in an embarrassingly upscale neighborhood, the kind of neighborhood where people hold functions in their backyards, I can only assume this was towed away immediately. But it got me thinking: Why would Ford make this color?
Here’s what I mean. We all know the most popular car colors are silver, white, and black. In fact, I personally own three vehicles, and they’re all painted silver, despite a long search that involved, in each case, guidelines that strictly included the parameter: I do not want silver. (Actually, this isn’t entirely true. For my Nissan Cube, the parameter was: I do not want a Nissan Cube.)
With that knowledge in mind, why would Ford intentionally make it more difficult for their dealers to sell a car by painting it bright yellow? Think about it. Pretend you’re Ford. You live in Michigan. The roads are awful. The only way you can make a left turn is by first making a right turn. The average home costs as much as a pack of Milk Duds. Are you in this mindset?
OK, so you’re Ford, which means you want to sell as many cars as possible, because you’re paying those union workers either way. Shouldn’t you paint every single vehicle silver, black, or white, under the theory that they’ll appeal to the greatest number of buyers?
The answer to this question is obvious: no, you shouldn’t. Undoubtedly, color distribution is a bell curve, just like most things in life. That means for every 50 people who walk into a dealer and say “Please give me silver!” there are at least a few stragglers who actually arrived at Chrysler dealers in 2003 and said: “Oh, I just have to have that PT Cruiser with the wood on the sides!” Interestingly, those people are still around today, and so are all of their cats.
But this begs an entirely different question, which is: Why would someone want to subject themselves to a weird color? Now pretend you’re the guy who has the yellow F-150. You’re manly. You’re signs on the windshield that said: “BUY ONE, TAKE AS MANY TWO-DOOR FOCUSES AS YOU WANT!” and you chose … yellow.
You have to be pretty secure with yourself to make this decision. You have to be OK with the fact that women will talk about you behind your back and say things like: Oh, I really liked Jim, but he picked me up for our date in a yellow pickup truck! And then they will giggle and get their nails done because this, I have learned from the media, is what women do.
More importantly, you have to be pretty financially secure to choose a yellow pickup. Because when it comes time to sell, you’re going to be screwed. You’ll be up against a thousand other trucks on AutoTrader.com, all of which are white, or silver, or black, or some other color that will not repel women but rather will make women want to climb inside and announce: Let’s go back to my place. (This is how truck people think.) So you’ll have to price your truck way less than everyone else, and beg potential buyers just to come check it out. Right?
I recently did some searching on AutoTrader and discovered that mileage, model year, and trim level are really the only things that determine asking price. Color is a distant 90th place, right after things like cigarette lighter placement and whether the clock is set properly. And while I don’t have selling price data, I have to assume these dealers have some idea what they’re doing when they set these prices.
You’d think this article would end there, with me suggesting that everyone should go buy a car in whatever color they want, because I’ve spent eleven minutes researching the topic and there’s clearly no downside to owning a pink Honda Pilot.
But it doesn’t quite end there. That’s because there’s still one group of cars where color matters. I am referring, of course, to the fickle world of luxury automobiles, which includes a lot of high-end brands and, occasionally, Acura. These people care about color. These people won’t buy pink. Or green. Or yellow. Or basically any color except for various shades of bluish gray and silverish black and whitish beige, all of which have names like Desert Sea Silver Metallic that were invented by marketing staffers who have never actually seen the color in person.
That’s proven if you check out used luxury car listings on AutoTrader. As an example, I’ll turn to the Range Rover, which was recently voted the finest car ever made in a poll that included everyone in my home office. This is approximately how 2006 Range Rover pricing works:
Red: Will consider trades for an Oldsmobile Alero
And so, ladies and gentlemen, it turns out that color does matter – but only if you’re looking for a luxury car. If you want a non-luxury model, go ahead and do whatever you want. Unless, of course, that involves a PT Cruiser with wood paneling. Those have a four cat minimum.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.