Vellum Venom Vignette: Sartorial Color Selections?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom vignette sartorial color selections

TTAC commentator Windy writes:


I just started the once-every-few-years process of shopping for a new car. When I ordered my Mini 12 years ago, I was able to pick from a vast selection of colors and options. Since then, automakers have dwindled down and constrained their available colors. I’ve played the configurator game with many marques, and the choices in color were frankly dismal for most cars.

Frequently, you’re given the choice of whites, blacks, silvers, greys, and one bright color tossed in to keep the oddballs at bay. Red seems to be the most common bright color, followed by bright yellow and blue. Greens and browns are rare. Two-tone paint jobs and pastels are nearly extinct.

Then you go inside: if you want anything other than a standard black interior, it will be some sort of tan or brown that has to be ordered as part of a package that is itself limited to a single exterior color. Red leather in anything outside of the supercar category is extremely rare, as are natural looking browns. Most browns (in fact most leather in general) looks more like naugahyde than real leather, a product of being processed into uniformity. When was the last time you saw green leather in a new car?

Why have our color choices in new cars become so constrained?

Sajeev answers:

Overlooking manufacturers with bespoke programs that gladly Hoover your wallet clean, I reckon the lack of color choices for cars stems from a perceived lack of interest in expanded choices. That leads to operational hurdles for those choices not worth clearing.

But remember this: car designers are challenged and tasked with making “fresh” products every year, often reflecting trends in other B2C industries.

This was driven home during my time at the College for Creative Studies: ideas meet acceptance if someone with even a modicum of credibility does something similar. So, an automaker is likely to adopt a certain idea if a progressive product company (Nike, Apple, OXO), an important tastemaker, or — perhaps most importantly — a mega fashion haus tries to take that idea mainstream.

Let’s hone this down to the fashion connection. The car design business is diversifying, but it’s still male-centric, so let’s focus on men’s fashion in particular.

If forest green corduroy, dark red velvet anything, and brown satin shirts made a splash in men’s fashion and they — most importantly — percolate from Lord and Taylor to Burlington Coat Factory, everyone from Lexus to Hyundai will complement the modern gent’s garments.

Too young to know? Peep men’s fashion (not just the pimps) in blaxploitation flicks, in movies such as American Hustle, and TV shows like Mad Men, then contrast those fashion duds to this infographic.

Implementation won’t be a challenge when modern gents decide they want something different. Thanks to today’s operations management techniques integrating unique bits into the supply chain, adding a full spectrum of color-coordinated components is a computer reprogram away. That’s definitely an oversimplification — but if Toyota makes Tacomas and Tundras in the same factory, and General Motors can build the Camaro and Impala on the same assembly line … see where I’m going with this?

If the fashion statement analogy works, one-upmanship gets the car coloring business where it should be: precisely where it used to be!

Green interiors with green carpets. Brown paint with bronze wheel accents. Right now, even when you pick an obscure color, it’s absent from the headlining, wheels, and the entire dashboard. Most shameful is our current notion of brown seats with black carpet and black dash and doors with chocolate accenting! A brown interior should be like swimming inside a Lindt Lindor.

Perhaps it will happen. I shall remain optimistic. Car color choices are (can be?) a pull system just like any other feature customers shop for in our society.

[Image: Shutterstock user Africa Studio]

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2 of 156 comments
  • CincyDavid CincyDavid on Apr 21, 2016

    That Pasha cloth in the 928 is a lot to look at. Not sure I could deal with that every day. I personally like interesting interior colors, had a MB 420SEL with cathouse red leather and loved it. I truly hate the off-white leather in some new cars because it shows stains so readily...including blue stains from dungarees. In a perfect world I'd have black cars with either red or rich chestnut brown my splash of color for the interior. I am in the death care business, so black cars are the norm...

  • Maserchist Maserchist on May 29, 2016

    If the outside is orange, red, or yellow AND the interior is a nice light brown leather, then the vehicle must be Italian and desirable. The more cylinders, the better.

  • Cardave5150 Why oh why are they resurrecting the ZDX name??? It’s not like the last one was anything other than an overpriced freak show. Just use 3 other random letters!
  • Gemcitytm Why does it seem every EV seems to have ridiculous amounts of power? Yes, I know they're heavier than ICE models but who on earth needs 708 HP? How about a nice, compact EV with, say, 250 HP and 350-400 mile range? Is that impossible with today's tech? (I currently drive a 148 HP Mazda 3 ICE and it has all the get-up-and-go I need.)
  • CEastwood I could have bought one of these if I had the cash in 76 for $1000 white , red interior , 3 speed stick with whitewalls/ wire hubcaps - it was mint and gone a day after I saw it . But the real catch that got away was an all original 69 green Camaro RS convertible 327 4 speed with 46K on the clock for 1800 that I saw a few months earlier . Young and poor was not a fun place to be !
  • KOKing I'm in an emissions check only state, and I'd trade that away for a safety check all day.
  • Bd2 The hybrid powertrain in the Sportage and Tucson are the ones to get.H/K should discontinue the base NA 2.5L powertrain and just build more of the hybrid.In the future, maybe offer a 2nd, more powerful hybrid (the hybrid 2.5) which will first arrive with the next Telluride/Palisade.Kia also needs to redo the front fascia for the Sportage's refresh.