When creating a new car colour, Ford’s designers have to look at a diverse range of societies and predict how changing moods will affect colour preferences. The designers then combine that with knowledge of how trends in design disciplines are changing to create colours that look on-trend, nearly half a decade after they were developed.
The design process starts four years ahead of a vehicle going on sale, with Ford’s designers researching trends across the major design disciplines. “Our designers regularly get together and we look at what’s happening in architecture, products and interiors,” said Emily Lai, Design Manager, Colour and Materials Design for Ford in Asia Pacific.
Once the design team has a feel for where design trends are heading, they must become social scientists. “Color choice doesn’t just reflect your personality, it also acts as a reflection of the circumstances around you,” explained Lai. “If you’re amongst a lot of pressure and stress, for example, it will affect your choices and moods.”
A clear example of this came after the 2008 financial crisis, when economic concerns drove people to worry more about the resale value of cars. As a result, conservative colors dominated vehicle sales, as buyers tended to prioritise appeal to future owners over self-expression. The global financial crisis also drove “safe” colour choices as a reflection of the mood of the time. Ostentatious colours would be confronting, even disrespectful, to your fellow citizens
While the financial crisis affected much of the globe, every year brings unique shifts and changes in the cultures that make up Asia Pacific, where Lai is based. China, in particular, is a country where people’s attitudes and values are changing fast along with the pace of development – in the last couple of years, this has meant white becoming less popular as car owners become more confident, expressing themselves with different colours. In India, the hot climate makes lighter colours more popular. In Thailand, Ford has seen a significant growth of white vehicle sales during the past five years, while black is still the most popular colour among Thai motorists.
Religions, politics and values are different in each country, making the job of people who predict car colour trends especially tricky. It’s not just socio-economic conditions which influence color trends – the type of car plays a part, too.
Large sedans are associated with business and luxury, so developing a hot pink would be a waste of time. Smaller sedans like the China-only Ford Escort are family cars, so fresh and inviting whites appeal. SUVs nod to the outdoors lifestyle, so natural bronzes and coppers have been performing well. Pickup trucks have traditionally been seen as rugged workhorses, so bright shades haven’t sold as well, though that has begun to change with the recent trend for higher-end lifestyle-targeted pickup trucks, evidenced by the popularity of the Ford Ranger WildTrak in Pride Orange.
“Ford’s vehicle lineup in Asia Pacific is very diverse, and a colour that performs well on one vehicle in one market won’t necessarily perform as well in a different country,” said Lai.
Across most vehicle types, there are staple colours that don’t often change. These include whites, blacks and solid colours such as reds. These vehicle colours perform consistently, so they aren’t often updated. But periodically, advances in paint technology make changing the colour worthwhile. Changes in car design also have an impact.
“The shapes of cars and ways of using materials change, and different paints respond differently to that,” said Lai. This means as car shapes become more dynamic and sporty, expressive colours will be popular for their ability to complement the exciting vehicle forms.
Lai and her Ford colleagues are constantly working on what’s next. Happily, it seems like the gloom of the financial crisis might finally be a thing of the past.
“We’re noticing with the younger generation there is a sign of optimism that comes from a faith in technology, and that will bring in a lot more bright colours,” said Lai. “There will be bright colours for sportier vehicles, and there will be a trend coming through with accents, too, where one or more parts of the car are a different colour.”