Did you ever play the "car" game as a child? You know the one. On long road trips each player chooses a particular color. The winner is the one who has seen the most cars of "their" color by the end of the journey. A sure winner for 1999 and beyond would be anything blue.

North America's fall line of cars and trucks will be showcasing a full blast of blue that include: Intense blue; Patriot blue; Island teal and an amethyst that, when the sunlight hits it, is a shade of blue as deep as singer Barry White's voice.

You might be asking what happened to all those intense retro '70s colors from the mid-'90s-lime-green, brilliant orange and harvest gold.

Some, like Bob Burrell, manager of Color Marketing and Customer Service at PPG Industries Inc.'s Automotive Tech Center in Troy, MI, say that what many thought were colors of the '70s were actually "environmental" colors such as green, which are staging a slight decline.

DuPont Automotive color marketing manager Bob Daily agrees, "I don't believe that 1996 colors were '70s colors. Consumer tastes have dictated colors, and what we're seeing for 1999 is a resurgence of earth tones which include the colors of the Southwest, such as natural beige."

"Green was at 23% in popularity in North America and began to show some erosion in 1997," says Mr. Burrell. "For the first time since green's peak in 1993, it began to decline in popularity in 1998."

For North America the color green has dropped 6% in popularity since 1997, while black, brown and gray are becoming more in vogue. In 1998 black rose from 9% to 13%; gray from 8% to 11% and brown rose to 10% from 8%.

But by no means has North America ended its love affair with green as evidenced by its present percentage of 17%. In fact, that persistent attraction to green has translated itself into bringing teal out of the grouping of niche market colors to being able to stand on its own at a healthy 2%. But don't worry. Green is still considered a core color, and should continue to be in the mainstream and a mainstay of automaker palettes.

White remains another favorite of North American vehicle buyers, standing at 17%, but their affections for 1999 are drawn toward the marriage of natural and high-tech colors, such as light beige metallic and the tinted silver.

And yet there is no shortage of the color blue: there is Deep navy, Atlantic, Aquamarine. To grab the green lover, there are still colors with names that conjure images of "green," but you'd have to look closely not to mistake Teal, or the Jewel greens for members of the blue family.

"We break the colors down by vehicle category. Last year (1997) luxury dark blue was at 4% popularity and we expect it to rise again," Terrence Cressy, director of communications at DuPont Automotive, explains. "What we can say is that we see the color blue climbing out of the single digits into the double digit percentage territory. We see it at over 10%, and that is really dependent on the shades of blue that are now being developed." Mr. Cressy says that blue is just starting to rise in popularity and is moving up the chart from its current ranking near the bottom of the top 10. "Anytime a color rises to 10% or more," Mr. Burrell says, "that indicates very strong numbers as far as color trends go."

Knowing consumers' color preferences is not only important information for manufacturers, it is critical information that can make the difference between profits and product disasters. In a 1997 DuPont survey of consumer color preference "39% of respondents said that they would change brands if their color choice were unavailable at the dealer showrooms," Mr. Daily says.

So, what hues will roll down the roads of 2000 and beyond? Members of the Color Marketing Group based in Alexandria, VA, predict that six major trends will shape the consumer color palette at the start of the next millennium:

n Consumers are trying to return to a simpler way of life - back to the basics. And nothing is more basic than black. The 1999 Deep Slate is a black that is basic yet denotes power.

n Look for the color, texture and calming effect of water to be integrated into product colors and design. Blue, the color usually associated with water, is a relaxing color with overtones of tranquility and harmony. The color can vary from a deep midnight like the DuPont Deep Wedgewood blue to a pale, icy hue such as medium Willow, and from nearly purple - Thistle (with plenty of red in its composition); to turquoise - Teal (with green undertones).

n Ethnic influences from Asia, Morocco and Turkey are increasing in the United States. Those influences can be seen in the color offering of Desert Sand, or the aptly named Aztec gold.

n Nature and gardening have taken consumers to the spice and earthly colors. Evidenced by the "hot" color Chili Pepper red or a choice between the Fern and Alpine green.

n The improved economy paints a brighter color palette for the consumer. For 1999 such celebratory names as Sport gold or Olympic white reflect a winning and positive outlook.

n Textures, patterns and special effects will enhance and individualize colors. Even the use of names like Everglade green and Ivory parchment are enough to invoke a sense of textures and patterns.

So what does that mean? Results of DuPont's 46th annual color popularity survey in 1997 suggests consumers increasingly will select earth tones with brighter hues and shades accented by colors that evoke high technology into the years 2000 and beyond.

Don't expect to see much of the popular "special effects" colors from the mid-90's such as the harlequin colors that change depending on one's point of view. "Those particular colors are very expensive, which makes for a limited market," PPG's Mr. Burrell says.

Color, however, and the direction that it is taking, always has been the big story, and special effects will only be an influence on those colors. Color Marketing Group members predict that future automotive colors will be deeper, darker and richer. Distinct effects such as pearlescent, iridescent, and metallic are changing the future of color. They suggest that a strong economy combined with the telecommunications explosion makes for a more daring consumer willing to experiment with new color directions.