Popular opinion says that white cars reflect the sun’s heat better, which is why this colour is so popular in Australia. If that is true, then it fails to explain why other neutral but dark colours are also popular with new car buyers.
In 2014, according to a survey by Autogenie on 9000 Australian car sales, white was the number one choice of colour, followed by grey, silver and black. These four colours accounted for over 70% of purchases. This suggests that while there is some truth in the theory about white paint and interior heat, it is also the case that we Aussies are opting for the safer choice of neutral colours for our vehicles.
One view is that we buy these colours because they’re less subject to fashion, meaning that new cars will hold their value better. White is also seen as being a safer colour on the road. Autogenie reported that the least popular colours were purple, green, orange and yellow, which together totally only 4% of the purchases surveyed.
The weather point becomes a little less convincing when you learn that white is also the most popular colour in the rest of the world. According to US-based PPG, 22% of new cars in 2012 were white, followed by 20% silver, 19% black and 12% grey. Yet despite this trend towards the safer colour options, some bolder colours do still attract good resale prices.
Why, then, do paint manufacturers keep developing new pigment ranges? The answer is probably that a particular non-neutral colour may drive sales in a particular year, even if the attraction for consumers isn’t long-lasting. Like all other products, fashion and styling do play a role in consumer buying decisions. For example, red was enormously popular for a few years and remains the number choice for high-end performance vehicles.
And, as you’ll already have noticed, white isn’t the same white across all manufacturers’ ranges, and the same goes for every other colour available. As with interior house paints, there are numerous variations on a neutral theme, and it’s in a brand’s interest to keep presenting the consumer with something new. Even if the colour doesn’t look very different, its name certainly sounds it.
However, new pigment technologies can have their drawbacks. Honda experienced a problem with extensive top coat peeling with a pigment used prior to 2010, and had to issue extended paint warranties to new car customers. The problem was with the upper clear coat interacting with the chemical components of the metallic base coat. You can see some of these cars on the road today, with various obvious peeling issues prevalent in certain bodywork colours.
But there's no getting away from the fact that most of us are swayed by colour when buying a new car.
Our recommendation is not to make this a purely emotional decision, but to think about the effect it will have on the car’s future desirability and therefore resale value. Like any fashion, what appears ground-breaking today could be terribly outdated by tomorrow.