TROY, MI – White, black, gray and silver remain among the top exterior automotive colors, adorning 70% of vehicles built last year.

The other 30%, however, has seen a shakeup in some parts of the world and in certain segments, according to paint supplier PPG’s annual color survey, which is based on build data.

Blue is increasing in popularity in North America, especially in the sports-car segment, where the build rate has more than doubled between 2011 and 2013.

Jane E. Harrington, PPG manager-color styling, automotive OEM coatings, predicted blue would become fashionable several years ago when it began appearing in architecture, particularly in hotels and restaurants.

“Consumers are being exposed to (blue), because they’re able to sit in environments and are getting used to seeing all those great blues,” she tells WardsAuto. “It’s a subtle thing.”

Blue also is making inroads in the luxury segment, especially darker hues, Harrington says, noting she has seen once-popular lighter shades of the color drop off in electrified vehicles.

The luxury segment is seeing a proliferation of brown, although shades of gray remain among the most popular colors.

“Black was equated with the luxury market for years, but last year we started to see gray emerge and it’s now very close to black,” Harrington says, noting in China black and gray remain the most popular colors in the luxury segment.

While white still is the most popular overall, automakers are spicing things up by adding metallic flakes or blending in different hues, a process being used across the spectrum.

Harrington says auto designers often ask the supplier to modify a color so it best identifies the brand. The process can take months, because the color has to be developed, tested for durability and optimized to work with the automaker’s painting process.

Different formulas of each color also have to be created so a painted plastic part looks and wears the same as it does on a metal component.

“OEMs may look at a red and like it, but they might say, ‘We want the metallic flake to have more sparkle or for (the color) to be slightly more blue or darker,’” she says. “My goal is to show colors we feel are on trend for the 2017 market, knowing the OEMs are going to customize it.”

bpope@wardsauto.com