FEB 19th 2016

Axon's Automotive Anorak – Is White Right?


Whilst I don’t confess to be a leading fashion guru or arbiter of good taste, I must admit to being surprised and a tad disappointed when I read last week that the most popular colour choice for a new car in the UK last year – and for the third consecutive year – was white. White! Of all of the shades to pick for a new car! Come on Britain, I thought you had more imagination and style than this…

Alpine Vision Concept Promo

Now I agree that white might be an excellent colour for a Transit van, a police car (most of which are now silver), a washing machine or a Hollywood star’s teeth. But for a passenger car? Not in my view!

The dilemma of selecting the right colour for your shiny new wheels can be a difficult one, and that choice it is down to personal taste and opinion. Time was, in the very recent past, that choosing a white car was very much frowned upon in the UK. White was a shade that only graced a poverty model rep-mobile for a low grade travelling salesman pedaling photo copy paper or a budget-conscious local council pool car. A white car was also an undesirable outcast on a used car forecourt, unsellable and worth considerably less than the exact same model in a more imaginative hue.

In a previous life as the head of product strategy for a premium European car brand, I used to sit on the new car ‘colour committee’ where along with the design team and other key market representatives, I would help select the colours that I thought future car buyers would be choosing in a few years time. With the exception of my American and Asia market colleagues, white would always be shown, and instantly rejected by me and most of my colleagues, as it was regarded as the kiss of death in car showrooms across most of the globe. In fact, I even heard of cases were dealers tried to talk their customers out of ordering their new car in white, for fear that the vehicle would be part exchanged a few years later, and the client would be insulted by the low residual value offered for it.

Volvo 245 Turbo

You can therefore imagine my surprise when white made something of a comeback about five years ago, having (mercifully in my view) fallen from favour in the mid-1980s – remember all of those nasty MG Metros and Escort XR3i Cabriolets, strewn from rubber to roof in overly heavy colour-coded body styling kits? Yuk!

Suddenly from nowhere, new cars started appearing on British streets again in varying shades of toothpaste. It won’t last, thought I, as this new fashion for white will surely fall from grace faster than a Z-list celebrity on a reality TV show. A few years on though, it seems I was wrong, seriously wrong. As proven by the 2015 registrations, white cars remain as popular and commonplace today as they did half a decade ago. I keep telling friends not to buy a white car, as the bubble will burst very soon and their shiny new wheels will be worth nothing used; yet white new cars continue to sell, which shows what I know!

Although now a decade old, I recall avidly digesting research into new car buying habits, which revealed that white was the colour most strongly associated with basic cars, plus the least imaginative colour choice for buyers that lacked creativity, style and ambition. Clearly this no longer applies today, judging by the huge number of white cars on our roads, especially outside of the South East of England (the only region where the sales of black cars outstrip white).

The 2015 British new car sales figures released last week by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) revealed that white retained pole position, with demand growing 2.2 percent to over 564,000 cars. Of the 2,635,518 total new cars registered in the UK last year, a staggering 21.4 percent were white, compared with less than 1 percent a decade ago.

By Kieran White from Manchester, England - 1987 Ford Escort XR3i Cabriolet, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38605323

Blue cars also enjoyed a resurgence in 2015, with more than one in six people choosing the colour. Blue used to be the nation’s first colour choice of in the late 1990s and, after a period of falling popularity at the start of this century, it has now seen three years of continued growth. Green, orange and yellow also enjoyed growth in demand in 2015.

Meanwhile, after eight years at the top between 2000 and 2008, silver continued its decline, now making up just over one in 10 new car registrations compared with its peak in 2004 when almost every third new car registered was silver. Overall, neutral tones continued to dominate, with black cars in second place after white, followed by grey, taking 19.4 percent and 15.6 percent of the market respectively.

So, as you may have guessed by now, whilst I am personally not a huge fan of white as a car colour, it seems this austere shade is here to stay. So, no offence I hope if the colour of unflavoured Greek yoghurt is the preferred option for your own wheels of choice, as you are not alone. After all, it wouldn’t do if we all liked the same thing would it. Otherwise, we’d all be driving bland white cars, and that really would be dull.

Escort image courtesy of Kieran White, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Share this