How brown became the red-hot color for new cars and trucks
Silver was the most popular exterior car color in America for nearly a decade. But while it remains beloved by automotive designers for best showing off a car's styling, its unstinting argent reign was finally overthrown this year. By white. According to Sandy McGill, BMW Designworks' lead designer in color, materials, and finish, this is Steve Jobs' doing. "Prior to Apple, white was associated with things like refrigerators or the tiles in your bathroom. Apple made white valuable."
Valuable, yet boring. So while the rise in white's snowy stock may be good news for the luxury market — white is high maintenance, thus luxurious — it's a pale palliative for those of us with a bit more pigment in their palette. Fortunately, our expert interviews and analysis reveal that more enticing colors are emerging.
Light blue's ascension is connected to environmental wellbeing: clear skies, clean water. Crisp oranges are migrating from the world of high-end outdoor equipment. New paint technology may finally allow fashion's passion for fluorescents to flow from the runways onto the highways. And, as always, the smart money's on gold: as its price and profile have skyrocketed, so has its demand as a coating.
But the most enticing color trend, from our perspective, is the return of brown. After all, what could be more compelling to unicorn-riding Rainbow Brites like us than the hue derived — as any child left too long at an easel will readily demonstrate — from combining every shade in the visible spectrum?
As recently as 2008 articles and experts were prognosticating the "extinction" of brown as an automotive exterior color: it was too rooted in the malaise of the 1970s, it blended in too well with the scenery, it lowered resale value. Even the aesthetically-bereft American Automobile Association (AAA) danced on brown's loamy grave, claiming, in their Car and Color Safety dispatch of 2004 that, "brown, black, and green cars [are] roughly twice as likely as white cars to be involved in crashes resulting in serious injury."
But, like every cinematic hero, the very moment of brown's alleged eradication presaged its incipient resurrection. According to paint giant PPG's Global Color Manager, Jane Harrington, brown's latest uptick is based in its ability to convey stability and comfort, as well as the kind of authenticity that consumers— especially luxury consumers — seek. "Think of the experience of good coffee, good chocolate, great pieces of wood," Harrington told us, referencing the entire field of upscale umbric goods. "You're seeing it across the crafts industry: more genuine materials, something that has longevity. The handmade quality people are looking for in luxury."
High end car makers like Mercedes, BMW, Mini, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, and Bentley have all begun investigating what brown can do for them, with each marque offering at least two — and in the case of Bentley, a full half-dozen — earthy shades on their contemporary offerings. But we're also starting to see brown trickle down into the lower ends of the automotive marketplace. Ford now offers its Taurus sedan and Escape SUV in Kodiak Brown, as well as proffering a caramelly Golden Bronze dip on its best-selling F-150. And Toyota, though famous for producing cars that are both literally and figuratively beige, has also began to polish the mahogany, offering a quartet of browns on models like the Venza, Avalon, RAV-4, and Tacoma (though, ironically, you cannot purchase a Sienna in brown.)