What the colour of your car says about you

DETROIT (AFP) - The next time you buy a car, you might want to pause a while longer to decide what colour you choose.

Top automakers throw millions of dollars at researching what the latest tastes are, and say the colour of a vehicle is so important to customers that it can be the difference between buying or not.

The ongoing auto show in Detroit saw many of the classic colours - reds for Porsches and other sports cars - and a few less conventional (a Nissan Titan pickup truck decked out in "forged copper").

But there was no mistaking the preeminence of white. Particularly at the Volkswagen stand, where several cars, the stairs and much of the furniture was white.

In a multibillion-dollar industry, nothing is put to chance and nothing is done by mistake, of course.

At least two designers in Detroit referred to the "Apple effect" - the Californian tech giant - to explain the propensity for white vehicles.

Sitting at a white table, on white chairs, in a white room, Oona Scheepers of Volkswagen told AFP: "White for cars really peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, and then all of a sudden disappeared.

"But in the last 10 years we have noticed an increase again in white. And it definitely came with the Apple iPod era because Apple started to do everything with white, and a lot of nice chrome or metal finishes.

"In combination it was really nice and fresh. But before that, white was really not selling in Europe because people associated it with delivery cars and it looked cheap.

"But the combination with metal and chrome looks fresh and completely new. White is booming worldwide." However, Scheepers, head of design, colour and trim, said black was still Volkswagen's best-seller - but only just.

So if one were to choose a black vehicle over a white one, what kind of person would that make you? "You could be sporty. But people in hot countries like white.

"White definitely deflects heat, but if you have a black car it can get damn hot inside. And then in a country like South Africa you often have to overtake into direct, oncoming traffic, but white is very visible.

"So it's a safety feature as well in some countries. Metallic gray or black just melts into the colour of the tar, so it is not that visible."

Susan Lampinen, chief designer, colours and materials, at Ford, said the colour was so crucial to some people that they would buy a car purely because of that - never mind the design of the vehicle.

She too identified an Apple ripple effect in propelling white to a best-seller worldwide for Ford.

"White is very clean, very technical, very modern. So most cars look good in white," she told AFP in Detroit, adding other popular colours included blacks and silvers, while blue is also on the up.

Lampinen identified only "slight differences" in preferences in different countries because, she said, of globalization.

Environment, culture and climate can all effect what colour car someone might buy, she added.

Scheepers, however, saw stark contrasts between some countries, particularly when it comes to the United States and China.

"China is going for very, very bold colours. America is still quite subdued. White sells extremely well here and there is still a preference for champagne-toned body colours and a movement towards the reds in America as well," she said.

"But China is going for gold, extreme greens - it's a mixture of a green and a brown - very expressive.

"There is a new awareness in China, they are becoming very self-confident, and they are expressing themselves."

That also applied to vehicle interiors, said Scheepers, with Chinese consumers going for much bolder designs.

Volkswagen research turned up a surprising anomaly, said Scheepers. It found that younger buyers want more sober-coloured vehicles - while older consumers go for brighter ones.