Only a handful of people know what new vehicles will look like in 2009. But automotive paint supplier PPG Industries Inc. already has a good idea what colors those vehicles will be.
Blue will get more popular in the next four years as more dramatic shades are introduced, such as watery blue-greens and smoky lilacs. Yellows and oranges will get richer and warmer. Reds will glow in deep shades of cranberry and wine, and dark brown will make a comeback.
“Not everything in here is gospel, but it’s a general direction,” said Lorene Boettcher, PPG’s manager of global design and color marketing, as she stood amid dozens of swatches of color at the company’s suburban Detroit office.
Each fall, Pittsburgh-based PPG hosts a color tour for auto industry officials so they can look at upcoming trends and choose colors they can refine further in their own studios. General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group are among PPG’s largest automotive customers. The show travels the world for the next nine months.
Future colors are identified from trends in fashion, interior design, architecture and even cosmetics, Boettcher said. As hybrid vehicles get more popular, drivers may be looking for earthy, natural tones. Redwood, a trend in home furnishing, is inspiring natural shades of red. Luxury makers, always looking for ways set their vehicles apart, might choose rich blends that change slightly depending on the light or paints with flecks of silver-coated glass.
PPG has 20 colorists in North America, Europe, Japan, South Korea, China, Malaysia, India and Australia. They work separately to identify trends and then bring all their ideas together for the show. This year’s show features 130 new colors.
Silver is the worldwide favorite right now, making up 37 percent of vehicles produced. White is second at 14.4 percent. Blue and black are right behind, at 12.7 percent and 11 percent. Red, green, beige and other shades each command less than 10 percent of the market.
Silver will remain popular for several more years, Boettcher said, and PPG is trying to enhance it by experimenting with blends like silvery green and technology that makes paint look like liquid metal.
Each region has its quirks. North America likes paint colors that are more conservative but with sparkly flecks, although the colors are brighter than they were a decade ago, Boettcher said. Emerging Asian markets like bright, hopeful colors, including red and gold.
“All of our customers are always looking for the next brighter red,” said Jerry Koenigsmark, manager of automotive color design for North America. Koenigsmark said new technology, such as red-coated flakes of aluminum, are helping the company achieve that goal.
In Europe, the palette is larger, less sparkly and funkier. Because cars there are smaller, automakers experiment with colors like pink and kelly green. Blacks tinted with red and green also are growing in popularity.
Boettcher said natural tones will be a hit, including leathery browns and sophisticated, muted metallics. One color she showed was inspired by cappuccino, others by burlap and handmade dye.
Many auto executives have steered away from brown because it was a popular color when the industry went through tough times in the 1970s, she said. But that will start to change.
“That is something that’s going to start at the high end and work its way down to the mainstream,” Boettcher said.