The future’s bright … but it might be grey

As consumer appetite for bold car colours wanes, we look at the possible reasons why.

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When was the last time you saw a brown car? Or even a yellow one? Most likely not for quite a while, as according to recent available figures from the SMMT, primary colours have not featured in the three most popular colour choices for almost a decade.

In 2018, grey became the UK’s favourite new car colour for the first time since records began with nearly half a million registrations, equivalent to 21% of the total market. Black was knocked into second spot with white, blue and red rounding out the top five respectively. For many years the nation’s favourite colour, silver, came in at number six with its lowest popularity rating since the late 1990s. Interestingly, more than 85% of the 2.4 million new cars joining the UK’s roads in 2018 were painted in one of just five colours. According to paint manufacturer BASF, one explanation for the rise in popularity of blue cars is the “influence of the interconnection of digitalisation and social developments.”

Consumers become almost overwhelmed by the variety on offer, to the point that purchasing decisions are put off.

Whilst it’s fair to say that consumer taste changes over time, the more conservative colours have increased their popularity significantly and we’ll consider some of the main reasons why there’s a current trend towards a limited colour palette.

Firstly, there has been a seismic shift across the global car industry in the last two years regarding powertrain development. The market for diesel-engine cars continues its decline year-on-year, whilst petrol has seen a resurgence despite higher C02 emissions which, ironically, was the catalyst for the extraordinary rise of diesel a decade ago. With the DERV-market all but collapsing, manufacturers have now focused the majority of their R&D budgets to the development of electric and petrol-hybrid vehicles.

The costs involved in bringing these new alternate-fuelled vehicles to market are astronomic, to the extent that even electric disrupter, Tesla, has reduced the number of paint options available for the Model S, Model X and Model 3, in a bid to improve production efficiency and cut costs.

Secondly, the introduction of the Worldwide Harmonised Light-Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) has added a significant financial burden to carmakers, which are now required to test every single model variant under a newly defined set of international ‘real world’ driving criteria. As a result, a number of global brands, including Volkswagen and BMW, are reducing their model versions, in order to allocate resources to new technologies that will meet increasingly stringent legislation.

Another explanation for fewer colours is that restricted options can overcome the ‘paralysis of choice’, whereby consumers become almost overwhelmed by the variety on offer, to the point that purchasing decisions are put off.

At a time when ‘moving the metal’ is critical for the whole industry, actually having less choice can make a positive contribution to the used car market. Car colour can have a big impact on second-hand residual values, so popular hues such as grey, silver and black tend to shift more quickly than pink or gold, for example. Unsurprisingly, dealers prefer to seek out the most popular colours for their forecourts to achieve faster stock-turn with more sought after models therefore commanding higher premiums.

Despite what the statistics show, colour firm Pantone is predicting an increase in more organic colour shades over the next few years, so it will be interesting to see if manufacturers try and tempt buyers away from grey.

 

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