Here at Jalopnik, we spend a lot of time moaning about where all the interesting, fun car colors have gone. I promise that this particular post won’t go down like that, though, because one of Volkswagen’s top color experts has given me and other complainers reason to be optimistic about the future.
Jung Lim Park, Senior Color and Trim Designer at the German automaker, met with Automotive World to relay her predictions about the future of car color design. She starts by shedding some light on a misconception I always had, which is that Americans favor more boring shades and hues than our international neighbors. Turns out, a tendency toward neutral tones on sheet metal is human nature, and we’re not much better or worse than anyone else:
“Working in the color world, I learned that Asia Pacific, Europe and North America have very distinct color preferences,” said Park. “For example, Asia Pacific is actually the least colorful [region] … and in Europe, compared to North America, gray has always been more popular than silver, as has been blue.”
The data bears this out. Globally, white is number one, comprising 38 percent of total vehicles sold globally last year, with black in a distant second at 19 percent, according to Axalta. But there’s reason to suspect this may change in the years ahead, due in part to the sheltered, screen-riddled lives we’re leading right now.
Market demands for black, white and monochromatic shades in between will continue, Park says, but consumers are showing an increased appetite and interest in returning to bright and bolder colors. The reason? Because so much of our lives are now filtered through screens – from phones to tablets to computers to televisions – a certain segment of drivers will want vehicles that visually pop in real life as they do virtually.
“We are all so impacted by our digital life through the pandemic, and the colors you mainly see are [on] your screen more than actual physical objects.” said Park. “The future is getting colorful, for sure.”
Park goes on to talk about how Volkswagen has always had an association with bold colors, and the company’s latest products, like the ID.Buzz, continue an aesthetic that “is not available in other places but in Volkswagen.” I’m not quite seeing the exclusivity argument; the green-yellow of the ID.Buzz isn’t that far off the green-yellow of the new Mini Cooper that’s just been unveiled, for example. Anecdotally, though, I do notice a trend toward brighter, almost fluorescent colors, and many automakers seem to like to apply them to electric cars for that youthful, clean “digital” look.
Park isn’t the only color expert to theorize that the ongoing pandemic may influence the colors we choose at the dealer. Last year, my colleague Jason interviewed Paul Czornij, BASF’s North American lead designer. Czornij foreshadowed a similar phenomenon, although he didn’t explicitly say social distancing and lockdowns would result in more vivid colors:
“Let’s not forget that other, more abstract things add to the mix: the great recession, for example, made the color offerings more muted. It will be interesting to see how the current pandemic will influence how people want to color their cars.”
It echoes an idea I’ve seen raised more than a few times in recent months: That much like the 1920s, the 2020s could explode with creative expression and a general passion for life once we’re all allowed to go outside freely and be around each other again. Will that result in more dazzling colors dotting our streets? Manufacturers may offer them in greater numbers, but ultimately, it’ll be down to people to choose them.