Why California drivers hate colored cars
Why is a country with a taste for eclectic vehicles so boring when it comes to transportation colors?
Your eyes tell you California drivers prefer grayscale – white to black with gray and silver in between. My trusty spreadsheet, looking at a survey of car search website Iseecars.com, tells me that no state is more relaxed about color choices.
That research says 30% of cars in California are white, the highest proportion among the states. Black-grey-silver makes up 53% of vehicles nationwide – the same as the rest of the nation. That leaves just 17% of California cars in the “colored” category, the lowest among states and below the 22% share in the US.
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And when that same data was broken down by 50 major metropolitan areas, California had four regions that ranked high among the cities with the fewest colored cars – Southern California was No. 1 (with only 16% colored cars); San Diego was No. 2 (17%); Sacramento was No. 3 (18%); and Bay Area No. 6 (19%).
Carl Brauer is the auto sales guru at Iseecars who lives in Orange County. Like me, he is strangely troubled by the flood of dull colors on streets and highways.
“I always remind myself that for every brightly colored car I see and notice – wow, look at that fire engine red Ferrari! “I generally ignore the sea of black, white and silver cars that keep passing me,” he says.
His family’s agglomeration of vehicles reinforces his colorful thoughts. That’s two blues, two reds, his son’s black car (“I bought it CHEAP”) — and his gray convertible (a more complicated story). This color portfolio is consistent with the last five cars I bought – orange, blue, green, red – and white (loved the multi-colored interior).
Brower’s contrarian thinking is refreshing. And not only because I also count in my head all the gloomy cars that pass or fill the parking lots.
You see, too often industry experts just accept conventional wisdom – even if the patterns seem strange.
“Honestly, when I’m driving around, I often have my own ‘okay, find a car without shades of grey’ moment while waiting at a traffic light or driving down the freeway. Usually the result is quite depressing,” says Brower.
Gray scale business
Brower put personal preference aside to offer some business reasons why Californians don’t own many colorful cars.
“A lot of trucks and SUVs are bought by businesses, and they like white because it’s a neutral starting color for adding company logos and graphics, and it tends to hold up well and not show dirt,” he notes. “A truck or SUV on the road is very likely white, simply because that’s considered the most practical color by business owners.”
And you know there’s always money with Californians.
“People buy ‘safe’ colors to avoid challenges when it comes time to sell,” Brower says. “They feel that everyone is going to buy a black, white or silver car, and they don’t want to work hard to find the rare buyer who is looking for a creative color.” Many dealers order ‘safe’ colors when loading their lots for the same reason.”
Californians buy expensive things, so color matters. But Brower wonders if the conservative choice adds up.
“I think there’s a huge self-fulfilling prophecy factor where both marketers and consumers assume that everyone likes — or at least doesn’t dislike — these safe colors,” he says. “So everyone buys them, assuming everyone else prefers them. But if you ask these people if they really prefer black, white or silver cars on a personal level, many say ‘no, but everyone else does,’ so they agree to get along.”
The customer is always right, right?
Well, an unusual colored car can retain its resale value better. Consider an Iseecars study of nationwide depreciation rates by color, suggesting rarity sales.
The hard-to-find yellow vehicle – a shade common to sports cars – performed best, retaining 95% of its value after three years. Next is orange with 89%.
Purple, red, green, blue, gray and beige are 86%. Silver had a national average of 85%, followed by white and black at 84%.
And by that math, if you care about resale value but want a colorful device, don’t get gold (83%) or brown (82%).
Publishing such trends reveals Brouwer’s intense question about car color preferences.
“These dull colors hurt resale value,” he says. “But I know I’m alone. I see all the premium cars being driven in south Orange County and it almost feels like a uniform. The white Mercedes-Benz. The black Audi. The silver BMW. I’m not sure how these people don’t feel like part of some dystopian sci-fi novel. But I like to throw my red and blue cars into their world just to mix things up a bit.
See the Top 10 ‘most colorful’ urban areas according to car ownership from the Iseecars survey.
Harrisburg, Pa., was No. 1 behind Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Akron, Ohio, Cincinnati, Louisville, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Michigan and Columbus, Ohio.
As someone who lived my first three decades in the northeast quadrant of the nation, I know that these cities have a pretty grim climate. Unlike sunny California, time is often measured in shades of gray.
Maybe they need colorful cars to brighten up the landscape.
Jonathan Lansner is a business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at [email protected]