Avocado green? What car colors say about us


Bricklin SV-1’s were only available in high-visibility “safety colors” like this bright green.

Whether they be a reflection of tech trends or a general social atmosphere, car colors have changed with the times. But thank God avocado green is still out of fashion


By: Lorraine Sommerfeld\Vancouver Sun

Do you care what color your car is?

The most popular car color in the world is white, according to PPG Industries, the biggest automotive paint supplier. For 2013, a whopping 25% of vehicles they supplied paint for were white. There’s the usual reason: in hotter climates, white absorbs less heat. There is also a new reason being proposed: we’re matching our cars to our Apple products. I was about to dismiss that last one as silly, until I remembered a time when I actually bought a red cellphone to match my red Ford Explorer. Of course, I no longer have either, and I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I did that.

Paint suppliers know we’re predicable, apparently. When stainless steel and silver signaled high tech, we loaded our kitchens and driveways in those hues. It could be worse; anyone who survived the ’60s will recall harvest gold and avocado green as cutting-edge colors. The cars followed suit, and the only color worse on a station wagon than avocado green was Brady Bunch brown.

Manufacturers are selecting color options up to three years in advance, according to PPG’s Jane Harrington, who is in charge of automotive color styling. For 2016 and 2017, manufacturers are already aware we are going to be happy the recession is over and will want to buy cars in actual colors once more. In a recent interview with Maclean’s , she says “we’ll see more deep jewel tones like teal and more earthy metallic’s, like reddish orange, in the coming years.” On an everything-old-is-new-again note, PPG is also bringing six yellows and seven greens to the table; fear not, they’re using words like sea foam and olive with nary an avocado in sight.

In North America, black is the other top seller, along with silver and grey. I can understand hesitating between black or white, but silver or grey? I also know several times I’ve gone to buy a car, I’ve mistakenly believed I really had a choice. Staring at the color chart after I’d chosen a vehicle, I’d let my eyes wander over the offerings. I’d no sooner linger on a fire engine red or a vibrant blue before I’d be told my choice, if I wanted the car right now, was silver. Or black. Or grey. I’d snap awake long enough to choose one, because no way was I going to draw this process out. Manufacturers don’t offer you a color selection; they offer you a selection of the colors they want to unload.

As a kid, we’d wait weeks for a new car, and I distinctly remember 1976. My AMC-devotee father had ordered our new station wagon, and we were dying to see our burnt sienna fashion statement. My mom had helped him choose, and we’d all stared lovingly at the paint chip. No more black Rambler; we were getting a burnt sienna Matador.

It was orange. It was flaming, pumpkin orange. My mother cried, my sisters fled, and my father stood there shrugging. Paint colors have come a long way, yet even today, my father would have been considered an outlier. They say if you’re shopping with an eye to resale you should keep to those perennial best sellers. Good thing my father never sold a car in his life, and we could keep that orange car for a decade so I could drive it to university. It was a chastity belt on wheels.

Car colors, like fashion, follow trends. Sort of. We’re trendy enough to swerve from beige to less beige, but the truth is that historically, it takes a long time for color shifts to occur. In the U.S., white has edged out grey in the past few years, which itself edged out … white. You have to go back to the mid-’90s to find all those green cars that made us all feel environmental, or something. The trend towards smaller cars has seen more fun colors emerging, perhaps because they cost less and it’s seen as less risky to follow your heart into a bag of Skittles.

I remember being impressed with a first shift toward earthier tones in the 2000s – colors seemingly based on metals like steel blue and slate grey. I remember settling on a minivan in a rich bronze, and getting it out in the sunlight upon delivery and discovering it was more like parched dirt. I kept telling the kids it was bronze, but I could hear echoes of someone wailing “burnt sienna” and I stopped talking.

A Rolls-Royce rep once explained to me that that luxury brand will make a car in any color a client wants. If you have enough money, like the Saudi princess we were talking about, you can even get a Rolls-Royce custom painted to match your favorite moisturizer. Don’t worry about the interior – they’ll dye the leather to match, too.

I don’t even know what color my moisturizer is, but I wonder if the princess would be interested in a classic AMC Matador in burnt sienna.