Car Color of Choice – the Dumbest Research Project Ever

The Dumbest Research Project Ever

Confession: I like to just sit and watch cars go by.  This started when I was very young, but peaked in 1969. Recovering from a broken shoulder, I was staying at my father’s house in Bellevue. The woman he married on the rebound after my mother passed away was a virago who was, quite literally, crazy.  When he went to work I was stuck with my arm in a sling listening to her cheap shots – like why didn’t I get a job?  This was nonsensical since I’d been told by the surgeon to do nothing for about 6 weeks while the shoulder surgery healed and besides, my teaching career would start in 9 weeks.  To escape her peculiar brand of insanity, I would walk down the street and sit in the sun on a grassy expanse overlooking I-405 and simply watch the cars.  Looking back, I think I was a pretty sad and lonely young man. I had no friends, having crashed my motorcycle three days after moving, and no money at all.  Still, it passed the time and was enjoyable.

A few years ago I read an article about the use of color on new cars, and what colors are popular in different time eras.  In the late 1950’s most cars had two color tones, and many had three. More recently there has been a steep rise in what I would call the “non-colors” of white, silver, and black.  Since I do not like any of them, I was curious as to what percentage of people would choose colors that I would eschew for me.  This requires placing to one side the fact that we’ve owned three black cars, because Susan likes them!

On visits to my daughter and her husband, then living about 50 miles north east of San Francisco, I’d go for a walk to sit and smoke my pipe. I began to note the % of cars in those three non-colors – adding the numbers in my head in groups of 50. I also did this on visits to sister-in-law Meghan’s place in Los Gatos, as Susan and her kids and Meghan would often be shopping or at the movies. I had lots of time to hang out at the local exotic car emporium or sit in the downtown park and – watch cars go by.

Weird, but a relatively harmless affectation.

When I worked at Ride West BMW I would often take my lunch to a bench in a park about a mile away and continue my “research.”  I also did a lot of this on my recent motorcycle ride to Minnesota and back. A good way to unwind from the mental focus required to ride a motorcycle all day was to sit in the evening and meditate – while counting cars.

After several years of this and a data bank of many thousands of vehicles, some conclusions can be drawn, if you’ve not fallen asleep yet.

First of all, I did not include taxis, huge trucks, or “commercial” vehicles. Any car or small truck with graphics on the side was eliminated, as many of them are ordered as a fleet in some blah color or non-color. I made an exception for something like a yard maintenance truck that had clearly begun life as a consumer purchase.

As it turns out, the percentage of vehicles that are white, silver, or black will rise and fall depending on the economic status of the region.  Out on the Interstate, where the traffic is a mix of locals and vacationers, the black, white, and silver cars will make up about 66% of all vehicles. In a high-end area, such as Los Gatos, it will rise to over 70%. This is even more telling in Los Gatos, because there are an abundance of exotic cars, which are usually in a bright color, but their numbers are dwarfed by fleets of Mercedes and Porsche and BMW vehicles, almost all of them in black or silver.

Near Ride West, an area with a much lower demographic economically, the percentage declines to the high 50’s, and the cars are older.   In a small and relatively poor town like Lewistown, Montana, the percentage is 50%.  That low number was replicated in East Spokane, also a relatively poor area.

In East Spokane I was sitting on a bus bench that was only a foot or two from the curb, and a new data consideration emerged. Not only were the cars and trucks of color about 50% of the total, but an amazing number of them contained people smoking cigarettes. Here in Western Washington, a cigarette smoker is a person almost defying political correctness, and pretty rare.

I’ve noticed recently that brand new cars and trucks are swinging the other way. Ford pick-up trucks are now made in a brilliant dark blue, and in my research that appear to be selling in huge numbers in North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho.  New cars also seem to be joining the trend – which I find heartening.

Not all colors are created equal. I like yellow cars, but it must be a “good” yellow. Porsche and Ferrari use a great yellow – pretty much identical to my 2000 Ford Focus. When we purchased our Fiat, we passed by the yellow shade because it was too bland. Besides, it’s an Italian car, so it should be red, all things being equal. But they seldom are, and the Fiat red was not inspiring either, so we paid extra for “Rosso Brilliante,” which is a darker red with some brightener in it – much better.  The new model Corvette comes in a wonderful deep metallic green that I bet few people would order.  I would, but I am not all that fond of the car. The previous Z06 model comes in a great shade of yellow or an even better shade of metallic maroon.   Come on lottery ticket!

And what does all this mean?  Pretty much nothing, unless you work for a car company judging consumer buying trends and color preferences.  Bring on the reds, yellows, metallic greens, blues, and deep maroons, I say!


Copyright 2014                            David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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