Most cars are painted one of these four colors—here's why

Why car colors are so 'boring'

Automotive enthusiasts and journalists often complain that cars these days all look the same. They blame the rise of the crossover, the increasing need to make cars as aerodynamic as possible to improve fuel mileage and an ever-growing list of essential safety features and technology. 

But car colors are pretty uniform as well.

The vast majority of cars on the road around the world are painted in just a few colors. All of them are what people in the coatings industry call "achromatic." That means they are colors that are not that colorful: white, black, gray and silver. 

Thirty-nine percent of the cars in the world are white, according to data compiled in 2019 by coatings company BASF. Black, gray and silver together make up another 39% of cars on the road. That means nearly 80% of all vehicles are painted with achromatic lacquer.

The most popular chromatic color is blue — about 9% of cars come in that color, and just 7% of vehicles are painted red. 

The reasons for this are varied, say some in the coatings industry. Risk-averse dealers might choose to stock the most popular colors, thus limiting the overall supply of unusual hues. Risk-averse consumers might worry about an odd color driving down resale value.

But coatings makers insist that today's colors are more nuanced and varied than statistics show. White is not merely white, nor are black, gray or silver uniform colors. Coatings can be tweaked in all sorts of ways — by adding effects, such as metal flake or bits of glass or mica. Color shades can also be tweaked — adding a slight bluish tint to white evokes a futuristic look, while a slightly yellower white conveys luxury. 

These changes are subtle, but they do act on the perceptions of customers, and automakers are often very specific about what kind of color they are looking for. It is the first thing a buyer really notices.