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 glossy 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.
White and other "safe" colors silver, gray and black also got more popular during the economic downturn, as buyers stopped leasing and bought vehicles they expected to hold on to for much longer, said Michelle Killen, GM's lead color designer for exterior paints. They were leery of some of the more daring colors on the market, like the magenta available on the Ford Fiesta or the bright orange on the Scion iQ.
"Buyers want to purchase a color they won't grow tired of over an extended period of time," Killen said.
Color preferences vary by geography. You'll find more 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 a recent home color show in Paris, for example, so she helped develop a purplish gray paint for cars. PPG starts showing paints to carmakers three or four years ahead of a model's release, and automakers settle on colors two or three years before a model goes on sale.
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..