Twenty-two percent of cars and trucks built for the 2012 model year have white paint, making it the most popular color worldwide. Silver is close behind, at 20 percent, followed by black at 19 percent. Gray and red follow to round out the top five.
White is the most popular color for the second year in a row, after overtaking silver in 2011. The annual rankings are compiled by automotive paint supplier PPG Industries Inc., a Pittsburgh-based company that provides paints to General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., BMW AG and others.
The rankings are skewed somewhat by the large number of pickup trucks on the market. Trucks accounted for 55 percent of North American production in the first eight months of this year, according to Ward's, which compiles automotive data. One in four pickups produced is white because business owners often use them as work trucks and paint logos on them. By comparison, 19 percent of midsize cars made in North America are white.
White, which was also popular in the 1980s, is making a comeback as a modern, high-tech color thanks in part to Apple Inc.'s all-white stores and white gadgets, said Jane Harrington, PPG's manager of color styling for car companies. Manufacturers are also making more varieties of white, from the flat, bright white on many vans to the pearly cream of luxury SUVs.
Silver also rose in popularity as a high-tech color starting in the 2000s. It remains popular because it highlights every angle of a car, Harrington said.
"Silver looks great on any design," Harrington said.
Buyers are also being practical. There are plenty of daring colors on the market, from the magenta on the Ford Fiesta to the bright orange Scion iQ. But white and silver are also more popular because they're conservative choices that won't be out of style when it comes time to sell the vehicle, Harrington said.
Color preferences vary by geography. You'll find the most red vehicles in North America. Black and gray overtake silver in popularity in Europe. Drivers in Asia like tan and gold but not green. Only about 7 percent of cars in every region are blue.
PPG, which also develops paints for cell phones, laptops, airplanes and houses, bases its automotive paints on trends it sees in fashion, interior design and other areas. Harrington saw a lot of purple at recent home color shows in Europe and Asia, for example, so she helped develop a purplish gray automotive paint for North America.WHY NOT MAKE THE PURPLISH COLOR FOR THE EUROPEAN AND ASIAN MARKETS? PPG starts showing paints to carmakers three or four years ahead of a model's release. JUST CURIOUS: HOW LONG BEFORE A MODEL GOES INTO PRODUCTION ARE THE COLORS CHOSEN?
Harrington predicts customers will see more browns and oranges over the next two years, especially on luxury cars. Brown - which reminds people of leather or a rich cup of coffee - evokes luxury around the world. Earthy colors are also appealing to drivers concerned about the environment.
As for the 2015 and 2016 model years, PPG is showing 64 future color options to automakers this week. Among those are Al Fresco, a silver metallic with a green tint; Glacier, an icy gray with a violet blue tone; and Elixir, a metallic mixture of silver and magenta.