Briefly noting silver's continued reign as the overall most popular car color, perhaps the most striking statistic of PPG's latest car color survey is that black -- and shades of black, which, indeed, exist -- opened a wide lead over the ubiquitous silver in the North American luxury car segment.

Jane Harrington at PPG Industries says traditional black is being upgraded to suit more refined palettes and now can be shaded with a blue caste or even a black-burgundy that's proving increasingly popular. The company publishes an annual report on the most popular vehicle shades.

"Black is high-end, it's classic, but it's not always basic," Harrington said. "It could be black metallic. We're starting to see richer colors and shades in every palette."

Silver, for its part, stays the most popular color across all models for the 10th straight year thanks to advances in pigment technology that allow consumers to opt for silver with blue, copper or bronze tints.

It's even gaining in popularity: The silver, grey and charcoal category market share increased this year to 31 percent from 25 percent in 2009 and 20 percent in 2008. Black has steadily increased its market share over the last 10 years, while white and blue have remained fairly constant, and demand for red paint has declined markedly.

Some of the latest popular colors come from haute couture fashion runways or the latest interior design trends. Examples include a bright yellow-green previously seen mainly on concept cars as well as a copper orange that's now almost become a "core color" on small cars. Many new colors feature in a palette of 66 shades that Pittsburgh-based PPG predicts will be at the forefront of car design for the next three years.

"We're seeing a lot of darker browns, coppers and oranges used on new restaurants, hotels and lobbies, so consumers are getting more used to these colors. Browns are associated with luxury, so people get used to it."

As to the enduring popularity of base colors: "Silver, black and grey are offered on every single vehicle style and are core to every vehicle palette from SUV to luxury."

PPG gleans its color predictions by studying the automotive market and other paint sectors including architecture, fashion, interior design and industrial design (think cell phones, computers, boats and airplanes). Harrington says automotive color development typically has a much longer lead-time than, say, cell phones, where color trends change from month to month.

The popularity of copper orange can be traced over the last eight to 10 years from its use on sophisticated or sporty high-end models such as BMWs, which resulted in carmakers from the lower end of the spectrum opting to use the color to jazz up their products. Harrington says this may yet happen with shades such as tinted silver or gold.

Green's newfound popularity can be traced to the mid-1990s, when it was the most popular new-car color, with carmakers opting for shades including "Hunter green" and "Polo green." Now, green accounts for less than 5% of all new models, as darker shades of green were deemed unpopular in the small-car sector. That could all change now, though, with the increasingly popular yellow-green having a chance to become the new copper orange.

Harrington said buyers will "see a continuance of tinted silver, blue brown or bronze cast. Browns and oranges and golds will continue to increase, and blue will have an effect, and also light silvers and charcoals."

"All carmakers absolutely are striving to find the next color for their brand strategy, as color can really enhance a design. When designers come in here I know they're going to say, 'That's the kind of blue I want,' but they want the metallic flake to be coarser, they want their specific signature on it."

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