I’ve been grousing about the grim, grayscale, paying-the-gas-bill-level of excitement that is the current state of the automotive colorspace for years and years, to the point where I once actually reached out to Paul Czornij, BASF’s North American lead designer to ask him why the world is like this, and what happened to the era of orange family sedans and yellow hatchbacks and teal trucks? I asked him those questions because BASF North American releases a report every year about automotive color trends across the globe, and the results are always interesting, even if they tend to be disheartening to those of us who enjoy full-spectrum color vision (sorry, sharks). The report for 2022 is now out, and while the dominance of grays and whites and blacks continues unabated, there are a few, small gains made by actual, real, chromatic colors that may be just enough of a hook to support a small bag of hope. It’s not much, but it’s something, and I’ll take it.
For this past year, it seems the big news is that the achromatic (you know, grays, white, black) dominance is finally showing a few tiny cracks. According to the report:
As they have for several years, achromatic colors dominated the automotive market around the globe in 2022. But as BASF’s designers found in the company’s Color Report for Automotive OEM Coatings, the automotive color rainbow is expanding to allow colors like yellow, orange, green, and violet to take market share.
The most popular chromatic, actual colors that buyers chose instead of some gray miasma were reds and blues, making up five and eight percent of the global market. Here’s the full breakdown:
So, the Grayscale Monolith still controls a shocking 81% of the market. And, it looks like blue and red, despite holding the highest chromatic percentages, dropped one percent, along with green, brown, and gold. But! There’s a surprise here, with violet – freaking purple – making a one percent gain and getting on the big board, along with yellow and orange! Hot damn! It also says green gained share, but then it also shows green dropping a point, so I’m verdantly confused.
Man, violet, who would have guessed? I mean, we sure as hell champion the color here, but I’m a bit skeptical this was because of us. Was it? No. But a boy can dream.
Let’s look at the regional breakdowns:
For my fellow Americans looking for an actual, genuine, unassailable reason to be patriotic, here you go: America’s percentage of real colors sold on cars is up, a glorious, rainbow bulwark against the cloudy gray mass encircling the globe. From the report:
Blue is still on top, and the gap between blue and red is widening as blue continues its dominance. Achromatic colors like black, gray, and silver lost some market share, especially in larger vehicles. That allowed earthy tones like beige, brown, and green to increase, and violet to gain market share as car buyers’ tastes change.
Black, silver and gray losing market share? Damn, it feels good to read that. Of course, the achromatics still dominate in America, like everywhere else. There’s other interesting details to note, like how South America tends towards lighter colors and yellow, oranges, and greens making European gains, while Asia grows even grayer.
It’s interesting to look at all of this over time, too. A couple years ago someone on Reddit scraped 3.5 million used and new car ads from Polish websites between the years 1990 and 2020 to come up with this graph of color distribution:
Look at 1996! Achromatics were on the run! And look at all that green! Oh, and if you want to see the raw data, you can click here.
And this chart only goes back to 1990; going back further, you can see that our carscape was once vastly more colorful, like the earthtones and colors of the 1970s:
…or the fearless pastels and two-tones of the 1950s:
So, while the global state of color in cars is still pretty boring, I’m going to allow myself to feel a little bit of hope, and maybe even a little bit of pride that America is leading the way back to color. Come on America! Let’s keep it going! And, rest of the world, don’t be afraid of color! Let’s push back the gray with a blast of cheerful yellows, elegant blues, vivid oranges, and, yes, glorious purples.