TROY, MI – When it comes to color, car buyers still prefer their vehicles in white, which takes the top spot for the second straight year in an annual global survey that ranks automotive color preferences.

The study was conducted by coatings-supplier PPG Industries, which this year collects data on global light-vehicle production and market trends. The data covers 2012 through July.

This year’s results show white ranked first among 22% of global auto makers, followed by silver (20%), black (19%), gray (12%), red (9%), natural tones (8%), blue (7%), green (2%) and “other colors” (1%).

Jane E. Harrington, PPG manager of color styling-automotive OEM coatings, says white rose to the top again because it is the most readily available paint color, offered by nearly every vehicle segment. It is also the most-popular choice for midsize sedans.

There are other consumer markets finding white resonates with their customers, including its use on smartphones and tablets.

“Apple has released all its new products in white, and we think it’s given consumers a different look at white in what it can do and how it looks like new technology, sort of how silver used to be,” Harrington tells WardsAuto.

And white is a conservative buy, she adds. “Next to your home, a vehicle is probably the second-largest purchase you can make.”

While white, along with black, silver and gray, annually is listed in the top color ranking among car buyers, other colors have been growing in popularity, including shades of orange and brown, particularly on SUVs and luxury vehicles.

Various vehicle segments gravitate toward certain colors, Harrington says. Blue is popular on electrified vehicles, while small cars tend to be painted with bright blues, greens and orange hues.

Bright colors are offered on small vehicles because they appeal to the targeted buyers, says Cindy Niekamp, PPG senior vice president-automotive coatings. “Colors on the lower-priced vehicles lend (themselves) to the demographics,” she says. “They are more youthful, and (color) is a way to differentiate the vehicle without extra costs.”

When it comes to the luxury segment, color takes on a more somber tone, with most auto makers offering black, grays, dark blue and silver.

Not only are vehicle colors important to consumers but the variations of paint finishes matter as well. Matte is the hot trend today, Harrington says, noting PPG supplies matte-finish coatings to Hyundai, Mercedes and Lamborghini. However, matte finishes have only a 3% take rate by car buyers, and while that may grow, it will never become a top choice.

Matte finishes “are something a lot of the designers are really interested in, and you notice those vehicles right away,” she says. “They create a different look. But it’s very much a niche right now, and it wouldn’t go across (all vehicle segments).”

Color is becoming increasingly important to consumers, PPG finds. Although most vehicles are offered in eight to 12 colors, there is evidence buyers want more.

The company’s 2011 survey of automotive consumers found 77% of respondents considered exterior color a factor in their vehicle-purchase decision, while 45% said they would prefer a wider range of colors. Owners of large luxury cars, sporty cars and premium SUVs placed the most value on having the color of their choice.

PPG also looks for color trends that could become popular in the future, referencing its work in other sectors, including architectural, fashion and consumer electronics. The firm’s color managers meet annually to discuss trends in their respective industries that could apply to automotive.

PPG listens to automotive designers too. Last week, representatives from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler visited PPG’s location here and picked out colors for upcoming vehicles. “There were some interesting colors selected,” Harrington says, such as amber orange, Godiva brown and some yellows.

Niekamp says auto makers have begun requesting paint colors to cover dramatically sculpted sheetmetal, made possible by breakthroughs in technology such as hydroforming that allow metals to be sculpted in ways that were not possible in the past.

PPG has created new colors to accent these design changes and also developed paints that can cover dissimilar materials being used more frequently by auto makers to subtract weight from their vehicles.

“They’re using plastics, aluminum and steel, so we want to make sure that when you put all the parts together (the color) looks exactly the same,” she says.

bpope@wardsauto.com