Car colour key to personality

The colour of your car says as much about you as it does about the current trends in car colours, says the head exterior paint designer at General Motors.

Auto designers take paint cues from fashion trends

Michelle Killen, a designer who chooses car paint colours for General Motors, at the International Auto Show in Toronto on Wednesday. ((Chris Young/Canadian Press))

If you're in the market for a new a car and choose, say, a white one, it says as much about you as it does about the current popularity of white cars, says the head exterior paint designer at General Motors.

The personality type that chooses a black or white car is more of "your safe customer," said Michelle Killen, who is based in Michigan, during a visit this week to the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto. 

White is the favourite car colour across North America, while black, silver and grey fill out the top four — followed by blue, and then red, said Killen. "Colour is so personal to your customer."

'We do our research'

"When a customer walks onto a lot and they don't see a colour that catches their eye, a lot of time that's a lost sale. So we really want to make sure we do our research and understand who the customer is going to be, male versus female, the age groups and, of course, what's the latest trend."

Killen, who has a bachelor's degree in interior design and started at GM as a colour and trim designer in 2006, noted purple is a popular trend in fashion and interiors — and that leads car designers to start putting hints of purple into the automotive sector.

"We want to have colours that read luxury, and we want them to be sophisticated, depending upon which brand. So for the Buick Regal, a deep purple would be beautiful."

Social trends influence colours

Just as fashion runs in cycles, so do car colours — with some tweaking.

Ten years ago, brown cars were more yellow-brown, a little bit dirty looking, Killen said. "And now we're starting to see these rich cocoas, sort of moving off of the whole Starbucks movement, where a latte has a little bit of cream in it, so it's very rich."

'We're starting to see these rich cocoas, sort of moving off of the whole Starbucks movement.'—General Motors paint designer

As she walked from a pearl-white Buick Regal over to a couple of sports cars, Killen explained that someone purchasing one of a limited number of Synergy Green Camaros, for instance, is an individual — "because not everybody on the street is going to have this."

A buyer opting for the Hugger Orange Camaro is definitely someone who wants to be seen, and "it does scream performance," she added.

"Somebody who wants to have a sophisticated-looking car, the black tends to make the car appear smaller. So if you're driving a larger SUV, the black will have a nice read on it," she said. "And somebody's probably going to keep the car for a number of years, it's going to have a nice resale value on it."

Silver big in Europe, pink huge in Asia

In Europe, she said, the top-selling car colour is silver. By comparison, smaller cars in the Asian market are brighter and come in more colours.

"Pink in Asia is crazy. Our Korea colour and trim department released a pink, and they didn't think it was going to do very well. And it's done, like, 23 per cent of their volume. It's huge."

Killen said because of the internet and the way people around the globe interact, some of the trend research is starting to make its way to North America.

"So maybe we'll start having some pink cars. I think it would be really cool."