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Automotive Paint: A Complex Category

When it comes to the most popular paint colors for passenger vehicles, it seems that the motoring public has the blues. According to PPG’s 2020 Automotive Color Popularity Report, blue hues are growing in popularity, and the company sees it as a multi-year trend. Sure, blue (which is considered an optimistic color) didn’t come close to white or black in terms of the “global color share” on model-year 2020 vehicles. But it’s climbing the charts on the color spectrum.

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At 34% of the global color share, white remains the most popular automotive color, according to PPG, while black is second at 18% and gray and silver are tied for third at 12% each. But silver lost three percentage points in the 2020 model year. Meanwhile, blue stands at 9%, up 1% from the previous model year. Red isn’t far behind at 8%.

“COVID-19 has consumers focusing on their desires and priorities,” says Misty Yeomans, PPG color styling manager, Americas. “Blue is an optimistic, comforting color that conveys trust, dependability, confidence, healing and hope. It’s also associated with nature, cleanliness and future-forward technology.”

So people like blue right now. But what about “Velocity Blue?” How about “Antimatter Blue,” for that matter? Or if blue isn’t your thing, maybe a “Cyber Orange Metallic Tri-Coat” would be more your speed. 

These are some of the color variations available for the 2021 Ford Bronco lineup. The “deep, rich Antimatter Blue” is available on the two- and four-door models, according to Ford, while “Alto Blue Metallic Tinted Clearcoat, a deep hue with hints of earthy green” is available on Bronco Sport.

“Several all-new hues are introduced across the Bronco lineup including Area 51, a smoky teal; Cactus Gray, inspired by weathered brush and tough cacti; plus an all-new Kodiak Brown, available on Bronco Sport,” the automaker explained this past October, as it unveiled the build-and-price configurator for the 2021 Bronco. “On the sporty side, Rapid Red Metallic Tinted Clearcoat, a color shared with Mustang, is available on both models, while Race Red is available on the Bronco two- and four-doors.”

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Move over, ROY G BIV. If it seems like the automotive-paint category has grown incredibly nuanced in recent years, that’s because it has. And that creates more complexity for jobbers and parts stores that sell refinish products.

“It gets more complex every day,” says Josh Byers, general manager and owner of Automotive Color & Supply Corp., an Indiana-based paint and supply distributor. “A lot of the complexity is driven by the car manufacturers.”

The Ford Bronco is just one example of how the automakers are introducing bold new colors every year. Along with new colors come new variants – slight differences between the OEM “prime” formula and the vehicle’s actual color. And since the early 1980s, the automakers have been shifting away from single-stage paint to a two-stage (basecoat/clearcoat) system. Byers notes that tri-coats – a basecoat, pearl coat and clearcoat – and even quad-coats have become more popular in recent years.

“The color formulations from the manufacturers have gotten more complicated,” Byers adds. “It’s all about the presentation of the vehicle and the shine and the luster and the sparkle, so to speak. The solid whites, the solid blacks are still out there, but there are fewer of them and more of the metallics, pearls and multi-layered finishes.”

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Byers also is president of the board of directors for the Refinish Distributors Alliance (RDA), a trade association of independent PBE (paint, body and equipment) distributors. Like most RDA members, Automotive Color & Supply does the bulk of its refinish business with collision repair shops rather than retail customers.

While the proliferation of OEM color formulations and paint  brands has made this a more complicated category overall, there’s an array of color-matching tools – from chromatic variant decks to software-driven spectrophotometers – available to help body shops and paint distributors choose the right paint formula for the vehicle.

For a counter person to excel at one of Automotive Color & Supply’s 10 jobber stores, “it’s not so much the technical knowhow of how to spray a vehicle that’s important today,” Byers says, “although that’s certainly helpful.  

“It’s really about the knowledge of what the differences in the products are, and being able to navigate through the tools that we have available to find the right color for the customer,” he adds. “In that sense, it’s really become more of an information job than a technical, hands-on job.”

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