Consumers Will Buy White Cars Until The Heat Death Of The Universe

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Image for article titled Consumers Will Buy White Cars Until The Heat Death Of The Universe
Photo: Toyota

For the 10th consecutive year, more white cars were sold globally in 2020 than cars of any other color — and the margin between white and black, the second best-selling color, wasn’t even close.

The data comes from Axalta, which manufactures coatings for automotive paint. White cars comprised 38 percent of all cars sold this year, ahead of black (19 percent), gray (15 percent) and silver (nine percent). Please, people. Live a little.

It’s not until you get to #5 that actual color makes a presence in the list, with blue at seven percent and red at five percent. Every other hue makes up the remaining seven percent.

Image for article titled Consumers Will Buy White Cars Until The Heat Death Of The Universe
Graphic: Axalta

With so many colors available, why do buyers keep opting for neutral shades? Earlier in the year, our own Jason Torchinsky spoke to a real car color expert, BASF’s North American lead designer Paul Czornij. Czornij said that advancements in paint technology toward the end of the 20th century, from the advent of clear coats to the increased and improved use of metallic flakes, offered depth to neutral colors that just hadn’t existed before and naturally highlights a car’s surfaces well:

... The end result is a crisp look that reflects strongly when you look at it head on and then drops off to a darker appearance as you move away from the reflection angle. The interplay of light color descending to a dark color works beautifully on a high surface area. It’s almost tailor-made for a car.

And speaking of tailor-made, there was a spike in technological gadgetry that had broad-reaching impact for many industries. Cars are perceived as hi-tech, so the psychological association of the color of metal surfaces, silver to silver=gray, naturally found a home in the automotive world as silver was seen as the color of technology.

It also has to be said that this apparent predisposition toward neutral shades isn’t entirely up to consumer preference. Dealers order cars in colors that sell, and if the data shows that neutral tones move off lots, that’s what they’ll keep bringing in. That presents customers with less of a choice than the multitude of shades seemingly available on a carmaker’s build and price configurator. Plus, in many cases, those more distinctive hues demand an additional charge.

The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy that it’s hard to imagine the market will ever break. Though, sometimes, that can have positive effects for customers that actually want cars in weird colors. I remember when I bought my orange Fiesta ST, salesmen repeatedly told me that if the car I was interested in had been black or gray, it would have sold well before I visited the dealership. Could that have helped me get a favorable deal on that car? Who knows!


Axalta’s latest data is eerily similar to its report from last year, which we also shared. Gray was seemingly the biggest winner in the intervening 12 months, bumping from 13 percent to 15 percent, while silver and red each dropped a percentage point. Yet again, we’re left wondering: Where are all the green cars?