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VW: Americans’ Car Color Preferences Are Boring, But COVID Might Change That

Americans just love their black, white, silver, and even primer gray cars. It’s like an old movie. However, Volkswagen’s color design experts think this may change again in the future.

“If you drove down an American street and looked only at the new vehicles, you might be forgiven for thinking you’re in a black-and-white movie.” Volkswagen recently said in a press release. And what it is saying is true. Americans just love their black, white, silver, and even primer gray cars. It’s like an old movie. However, Volkswagen’s color design experts think this may change again in the future.

Volkswagen wants to remind us that its cars are still available in a variety of cool colors, despite our overwhelming preference for white, black, and silver. Photo by VW.

“Color is always shifting, and our color perception is always evolving depending on what we see, what we observe, and what we live with,” said Volkswagen Senior Color and Trim Designer Jung Lim “Limmy” Park.

The company then pointed out that older American color films, from 1950-1970, show us cars far more colorful than average than we see today. Vibrant aquas, cherry reds, and many other punchy colors were common. It wasn’t until after 1970 that the range of colors became more muted, with more earth tones. In 2020, only a small minority of cars are in the red, green, and blue color range, with blacks and greys becoming more common than ever before.

Color design “is complicated and a complex theory that depends on the design of the car, type of the car, the size of the car and also types of trends that project on certain demographics and lifestyles,” said Park.

Park then pointed out that many color trends are going global, such as fashion and technology, but that automotive color preferences are still regional. People in different cultures still have very different ideas on how to pick the color of their cars.

“Working in the color world, I learned that Asia Pacific, Europe and North America have very distinct color preferences,” said Park. “For example, Asia Pacific is actually the least colorful [region] … and in Europe, compared to North America, gray has always been more popular than silver, as has been blue.”

“Color preferences really reflect the unique social and cultural trends and even geography [of a region],” Park added.

VW ID Buzz Concept.

The VW ID Buzz Concept. Photo by VW.

Volkswagen says that it is always ready for consumers to change their mind, with offerings of cars in many different colors still available. The company is also experimenting with retro and snappy colors on vehicles like the ID Buzz, a vehicle inspired by the old VW buses.

Park also pointed out that they’re seeing some change in customer demand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With all of the screen time we are now getting, we are getting a more colorful view of the world than we would have otherwise gotten in public. Consumers seem to be heading toward liking more color, so the trend may be on its way out…eventually.

“We are all so impacted by our digital life through the pandemic, and the colors you mainly see are [on] your screen more than actual physical objects.” said Park. “The future is getting colorful, for sure.”

screenshot from the Model Y reveal event

A screenshot from the Model Y reveal event in 2019.

While the color of a car isn’t something that directly affects clean technology, it’s a trend that definitely affects it. Look at almost any automotive industry reveal, and you’ll see that they respect our obsession with monotones, but also try to slip in splashes of color. The cool videos of cars playing on the track almost always are colorful.

It’s like we’re dragging the automotive industry, kicking and screaming, to boring colors. And they’re trying to get us to knock it off.

At the same time, Park’s commentary about screen time does hold true. Advertising and events would be boring if all of the cars came in boring colors. We obviously have a taste for more color on our screens than we do in our own driveways. As we’ve spent more time on the screens and less time on the drive, we’ve been exposed, willingly, to a lot more color. That’s sure to change our tastes a bit.

But then again, the color of a car doesn’t affect its efficiency much, so in the long run it probably doesn’t matter much. It sure would be nice to see more color, though.

 
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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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