Whenever you’re on the road, chances are, the most common car colors you see are varying shades of white, black, silver, or grey. As a matter of fact, according to Germany-based chemical company BASF, 39 percent of cars produced in 2019 were painted white. The next popular colors are black, gray, and silver (in that order). Despite numerous advancements in paint technology that enabled cars to be painted in more eccentric colors, why is it that white cars are very popular?
Achromatic colors (meaning black, white, or varying shades of silver or gray) had varying levels of popularity throughout the history of the automobile. During the infancy of the automotive industry in the early 1900s, vehicle paints were very fragile. This is why the Ford Model T, which was one of the first cars in the world to enter mass production, was only available in one color: black. Black was the chosen color because its quick-drying properties were appropriate for the fast production methods Henry Ford was aiming to meet the demands of a growing middle class. Henry Ford was even quoted saying, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.” At some point during the Model T’s production run, however, other colors were eventually available as paint techniques improved.
A video by Donut Media says that economic conditions play a role in people’s color preferences. Black cars also became popular during the early days because of World War 1 and people didn’t want to show off. After the war, an innovation by Du Pont called pyroxylin made paint more durable and quicker to dry. This led to the popularity of more eccentric car colors until the stock market crash of 1929 happened and then achromatic colors became more popular again.
The peak of monochromatic colors in the automotive industry happened in the 1950s to 1970s right after World War 2. Because it was a time of prosperity, Americans had the means to show off and buy the latest set of wheels. After this era though, a combination of the 1970s oil crisis and the Vietnam War made beige and brown colors more popular. By the 1990s as the American economy got better, bright colors were once again in vogue.
It wasn’t until the turn of the century when silver and white started to become popular. The 2000s became the era where car companies wanted to show off that they were moving towards a modern era of sleek machines. By this time, most of the concept cars we see at auto shows are painted in a sleek shade of silver because this color looked futuristic and modern. After that, companies like Apple released products like the Mac and the iPod, which were often featured in a minimalist shade of pure white. As a way to emulate this modern or high-tech look, car companies started to push out more silver and white cars. And in an era where these conservative colors signified modernity, most new electric cars right now are being promoted in white or silver.
Other factors that make white or black so popular is because, just like your white or black clothes, the color just works on almost everything. Whether it’s a small city car or a flashy sports car, white does not look out of place in any type of vehicle. This is also the same reason why fleet cars are often purchased in white or black since these are easier to match with the colors of a company’s branding. In addition, black, silver, grey, or white cars don’t generally go out of style. As a result, cars painted in these colors often have a higher resale value than cars painted in trendy or eccentric colors like pink, lime green, or orange.
While the popularity of black, silver, grey, or white cars may seem boring on the surface, a lot of people also argue that it actually isn’t. Not all white paints are created equal, and this is perfectly illustrated with Toyota’s White Pearl paint. Compared to its normal white color palettes, White Pearl has a more luster and depth. The process to achieve this luster also costs more than their other paints, which is why they often charge an additional P15,000 when customers opt for this color.
This is also the same case with Mazda’s Machine Gray. It’s a multi-layered gray paint that makes the car look like a sleek metal sculpture. Other markets charge a premium when opting for Machine Gray, but Mazda Philippines offers this premium paint without any additional charge.
Another perfect example of how white, black, or gray paint can be exciting is if you look at the color palette of luxury cars like the outgoing Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Black alone accounts for four out of the twelve available standard paint options for this flagship luxury sedan, while silver is available in three shades and white in one shade.
On the surface, it may seem like people really just tend to prefer achromatic or even “boring” colors, but not all black, silver, gray, or white cars are created equal. Paint technology has enabled these subdued colors to have a shimmer and depth that’s completely unheard of 10 or 20 years ago. How about you? What’s your favorite car color?