TROY, MI – Car buyers are going green. And brown and yellow – and a little more blue.

Taking a cue from such industries as fashion and textiles, earth tones are in demand again by vehicle buyers and likely will grace more car and truck exteriors in the coming years, coatings supplier PPG Industries Inc. says.

That isn’t to say tried-and-true standbys such as silver, black and white are falling out of favor. In fact, PPG says silver remains the most popular vehicle color globally at 31.5%, although that’s down from 33% in 2006.

Jane E. Harrington, manager-color styling, at PPG, says consumers consider silver low-maintenance, pleasing to the eye and a big driver of resale value.

Harrington charts automotive colors trends with a global team of experts who examine regional vehicle purchases, cultural and lifestyle trends and other industries.

“Silver is just a great color for an automobile,” she says during the company’s annual color show for vehicle designers at its headquarters here. Most already are looking ahead to the ’11 model year.

Black retained the second spot globally and saw its popularity rise to 18% from 15.4% last year. White followed in third at 12.5%. Naturals such as brown, gold and orange commanded just 6.6% and green stood at 3.8%.

But based on what Harrington has seen at recent expositions, earth colors – including blue – should gain greater popularity in the coming years.

“Last summer, it was orange and brown and green and gold. And I thought, ‘My gosh, it’s 1970 all over again,’” she says. This year, citrus green and white will join the mix.

“They’re actually making laminates – accents for offices – using those colors. So that’s something that is going to be around, and people are going to get used to it,” giving longevity to the range.

The fashion industry, a key driver of automotive trends, also is leaning that way, says Margaret Walch, director of The Color Association, a New York-based fashion forecaster.

“These are ‘70s earth-tone colors but different,” she tells Ward’s of new colors to watch for that include “brown, maroon, green, yellow-greens and orange.”

Walch sees a particular trend to such tones among small cars, with “vegetable garden” colors that recall radishes and butternut squash. “Colors like heirloom tomato (and) blue jar,” she adds.

Harrington says a growing environmental awareness also could be pushing the trend to earthy colors, particularly with heavyweight corporations marketing their greener side in expensive advertising campaigns.

“Nature is a strong influence, and it equates to these colors,” she says.

In the North American market, silver remains the most popular vehicle exterior color, with a 22% share. That’s down from 24% last year, and the color is witnessing a trend to tinted and charcoal shades. White remains the second most popular color at 16%, and black is third at 15%, up from 13% last year.

But blue is proving to be the up-and-comer. Globally, it commanded 12.4% of the market in 2006, and in North American it won a 12% share. Like red is to the fashion industry, blue allows automotive colorists a wide range of shades.

“Blue is an overwhelming color,” Harrington says. “It can be very diverse.”

One new color in PPG’s collection this year – the supplier has developed 105 exterior colors and more than 25 interior color concepts for auto makers to consider – is Cold Stare, a tinted silver with a steel blue highlight. As testament to blue’s range, another new color called Out of Sight mixes a soft brown with a blue hue-shifting highlight.

Other new colors include Double Vision, a medium green with a red hue-shifting highlight; and Quest, a citrus-inspired yellow metallic.

In years past, such punchy colors haven’t lasted long. General Motors Corp., for example, pulled copper-orange from its Cadillac CTS after the first model year in 2002. Ford Motor Co. reserved a similar color to the launch of its ’08 Ford Edge cross/utility vehicle, although the take rate greatly exceeded expectations, and the auto maker now plans to add more “buzz colors” across its lineup.

“Six years ago, we first saw those colors and (wondered) how long they would last, and now they’re becoming part of the core pallete,” says Harrington, whose team creates color palletes and special effects to meet an auto makers’ goal for brand identity, durability, workability and cost effectiveness.

PPG’s annual show also keeps auto makers current on the new technologies that provide innovative color ideas.

This year, the supplier shows Andaro, a nanopigment technology it developed that offers higher color saturation without sacrificing durability.

The colors are visibly deeper and clearer. Only available in a solvent-based application today, PPG currently is working to move it into the more environmentally friendly, water-borne process.

Another special-effect paint is Ferricon, an iron-based pigment with magnetic qualities that could be used in place of vehicle badges or to simulate exterior cladding. Interior options also exist.

Jerry Koenigsmark, manager-color design at PPG, says response to the special effects has been positive. “Designers are excited,” he tells Ward’s. “We think once it’s in the hands of some very creative people, the possibilities are endless.”

– With Eric Mayne