Colour preferences are a very personal thing; one person may love blue while another may dislike it and even among those who love the colour, there will be some who like it in a light shade while others prefer a dark blue. Deciding what colour choices to offer customers is a challenge for many industries and the auto industry too has its challenges because of its global nature.

When deciding on creating a new car colour, Ford’s designers have to look at a diverse range of societies and predict how changing moods will affect preferences. The designers then combine that with knowledge of how trends in design disciplines are changing to create colours that look on-trend – nearly half a decade after they were developed.

The design process starts 4 years ahead of a vehicle going on sale, with Ford’s designers researching trends across the major design disciplines. “Our designers regularly get together and we look at what’s happening in architecture, products and interiors,” said Emily Lai, Design Manager, Colour and Materials Design for Ford in Asia Pacific.

Once the design team has a feel for where design trends are heading, they must become social scientists. “Colour choice doesn’t just reflect your personality; it also acts as a reflection of the circumstances around you,” she explained. “If you’re amongst a lot of pressure and stress for example, it will affect your choices and moods.”

A clear example of this came after the 2008 financial crisis, when economic concerns drove people to worry more about the resale value of cars. As a result, conservative colours dominated vehicle sales, as buyers tended to prioritize appeal to future owners over self-expression. The situation also drove ‘safe’ colour choices as a reflection of the mood of the time. Ostentatious colours would be confronting, even disrespectful to others, it seemed.

While the financial crisis affected much of the globe, every year brings unique shifts and changes in the cultures that make up Asia Pacific, where Ms Lai is based. China, in particular, is a country where people’s attitudes and values are changing fast along with the pace of development. In the last couple of years, this has meant white becoming less popular as car owners become more confident, expressing themselves with different colours. In India, the hot climate makes lighter colours more popular.

The variety of colours that customers in Malaysia can choose from for different Ford models.

Religion, politics and values are different in each country, making the job of people who predict car colour trends especially tricky. And it’s not just socioeconomic conditions which influence colour trends – the type of car plays a part too. Large sedans are associated with business and luxury, so developing a hot pink – for instance – would be a waste of time. Smaller sedans like the Focus are family cars, so fresh and inviting whites appeal.

SUVs nod to the outdoors lifestyle, so natural bronzes and coppers have been performing well. Pick-up trucks have traditionally been seen as rugged workhorses, so bright shades haven’t sold as well, though that has begun to change with the recent trend for higher-end lifestyle targeted pick-up trucks, evidenced by the popularity of the Ranger WildTrak in Pride Orange (shown below).

“Ford’s vehicle line-up in the Asia Pacific is very diverse, and a colour that performs well on one vehicle in one market won’t necessarily perform as well in a different country,” said Ms Lai. “It’s a challenge that keeps us on our toes.”

However, there are certain colours that don’t often change. These include whites, blacks and solid colours like reds. These colours perform consistently so they aren’t often updated. But periodically, advances in paint technology make changing the colour worthwhile.

Changes in car design also have an impact. “The shapes of cars and ways of using materials change, and different paints respond differently to that,” she explained. This means as car shapes become more dynamic and sporty, expressive colours will be popular for their ability to complement the exciting vehicle forms.

Ms Lai and her colleagues are constantly working on what’s next. Happily, it seems like the gloom of the financial crisis might finally be a thing of the past. “We’re noticing with the younger generation there is a sign of optimism that comes from a faith in technology, and that will bring in a lot more bright colours,” she said. “There will be bright colours for sportier vehicles, and there will be a trend coming through with accents too, where one or more parts of the car are a different.

[Chips Yap]

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