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Cars Are Way Less Colorful Today Than They Were 20 Years Ago: Study

Data shows that black, white, gray, and silver make up 80% of the new car marketplace—up 20% from 2004.
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Take a look at the average corporate car park and it will look like a still from a black-and-white movie. The vast majority of cars sold in the United States continue to be grayscale colors: black, white, gray, and silver—and it’s getting worse. According to data from iSeeCars, there’s been a 20% increase in grayscale cars over the past 20 years.

In 2004, grayscale cars made up 60.3% of the new car market, which is an understandable number. Grayscale colors are simple, widely liked, and look good on most cars. However, in 2023, that number jumped to a staggering 80%. And, according to iSeeCars, automakers offer the same number of different colors now as they did in 2004, with an average of 6.7 non-grayscale colors. So it isn’t that automakers are afraid of interesting colors. Customers just don’t seem to want them.

Ford

“Colorful cars appear to be an endangered species,” said Karl Brauer, iSeeCars Executive Analyst. “Despite a diverse palette being offered by automakers, there are far fewer non-grayscale cars sold today. They’ve lost half their market share over the past 20 years, and they could become even rarer in another 20 years.”

The most popular color for SUVs and sedans is white, which isn’t entirely surprising, but what is surprising is that gray is now almost as popular as black. What about sports cars, though? Surely people spec more interesting colored sports cars, right? Nope. Gray is still the most popular sports car color. Admittedly, grayscale colors made the smallest jump in the sports car segment, at just 4.3%, but it’s a jump nevertheless.

What’s the most popular non-grayscale color? Unsurprisingly, it’s blue. But even that’s a bit of a farce because so many automakers make “blues” that are actually more gray than anything else. I’m looking at you, Ford. However, there’s a little bit of a bright spot, in that the only non-grayscale color to increase in popularity over the past few years is green.

Why are most cars on the road grayscale colors? It’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason, as there’s a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation going on. Dealerships mostly stock grayscale cars but is that because they know they sell better or do customers buy mostly grayscale cars because that’s what dealerships stock the most of? If dealerships took more color risk, would customers buy more interesting colors? There’s also cost. Grayscale colors are typically cheaper, and often no-cost options, while fancier colors are usually more expensive

Toyota

Resale value is also on customers’ minds when choosing colors. Many customers know that grayscale colors hold their values better than more vibrant ones, which has an impact on their buying decisions. 

Grayscale popularity has increased steadily over the past 20 years and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. So don’t expect exciting colors to make a comeback anytime soon unless there’s some sort of major cultural shift. So when you see someone driving a green or orange car, appreciate the fact that that customer went hard against the grain to get it. 

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