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January 22, 2018

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Home » Business » Autotalk Special

Consumers do care if a car is black or white

FANCY gadgetry and sleek styling, color matters when Chinese consumers go to buy a car.

Gong Xiaoyu, who works in an educational institute, recently bought a pearl white car. She said she loves the sparkling effect that distinguishes her car from standard white.

Indeed, when we look at a car, the first thing we usually notice is its color, and automakers are well aware of that fact.

Pearl white is becoming more popular in China, even though the exterior paint and coating process cost more than standard white vehicles. The color is often used in mid- to high-end models. The Tesla Model X, for example, has a pearl white option and General Motor’s Cadillac has a color option called crystal white.

According to a report released by US-based Axalta Coating Systems, 62 percent of new cars sold in China in 2017 are in white color. The color has been the favorite for more than 10 years. Within the white segment, 15 percent of car buyers voted for pearl white in 2017.

This all means that for every 10 cars sold in China, six are white color.

After white, Chinese car buyers prefer black, brown and silver. Yellow, red, blue, grey and green are down the list of favorites.

But there is white. Whoever thought such a neutral color could have so many variations? And why do Chinese like white so much in the first place?

For one thing, white is a highly reflective color, making cars more visible at night. It also makes a smaller car look larger and tends to keep cars look cleaner for longer periods of time. Using white paint may enable manufacturers to downsize a car’s air conditioner system and raise fuel efficiency.

Gong said a friend of hers suggested she buy a white car. Black, she was told, gets dirty more quickly and shows water spots and dust more readily. Her friend has two cars, one is black and one white, so Gong figured she knew what she was talking about.

Consumers may take a short time to choose a car color, but for manufacturers, color decisions require long discussions and testing.

“The development cycle is three years ahead of the target launch in a model year,” said Annie You, an Axalta color designer in China. “In 2018, we are working on colors for vehicles that will hit the streets in 2021.”

You said automotive coating suppliers have to keep in close touch with car designers, who have to decide if the latest colors are compatible with their visions of what kinds of cars consumers want.

“The development cycle for exterior colors is longer than for interior colors,” You said. “Both need to complement one another as well.”

For Chinese consumers, brown is a popular color for interior seats. German carmaker Mercedes-Benz has a customized brown color for seats of its E-class models in China.

Colors for the young

Younger Chinese consumers pay more attention to vehicle appearance than their parents. Their tastes in color have become increasingly important because the youth market is a big money-spinner for automakers.

While 1980s generation tends to be focused on success in their chosen career paths more than the colors of their cars, the post-90s group are much more picky and uncompromising, according to German automotive coating supplier BASF.

“Chinese young people prefer car colors that show off their individual tastes and style,” the company said. “They are also more focused on design and quality. That is reflected in the popularity of pearl white and sophisticated greyish browns.”

Axalta’s You said the young generation is perfectly willing to change car brands if carmakers fail to offer colors it likes.

“Automakers need to have a deep understanding of young Chinese consumers,” she said. “Carmakers need to be aware that young people are impatient. In a fast-changing society, color preferences change fast as well. In some global markets, car buyers may wait three to five years to get the car they want. But for Chinese consumers, if the color isn’t right, they won’t wait. They want it now.”

But as anyone in the fashion industry will attest, the hot color of one season or two can quickly become passé. Car colors go through the same cycle of changing tastes.

Industry insiders say blue is a promising color of the future in China. And not just the standard dark navy blue of the past. They want new trendy, chromatic hues like Tiffany blue, sapphire blue, cesium blue and royal blue.

“After a new model in blue is launched, it shows good sales performance in a month or two,” said Zhang Xiaofeng, an independent market observer. “It means that rich, vibrant blues have caught on with a certain group of consumers.”

China’s biggest carmaker, Shanghai Automotive Industry Co, applied BASF’s starlight sapphire blue coating on its Roewe Vision-E concept car that debuted at the Shanghai Auto Show last year.

BASF said the hue is a new interpretation of the classic klein blue color, with an additional purple effect. The unique blue is meant to highlight the futuristic and high-tech features of the electric coupe sport-utility vehicle.

UK premium carmaker Jaguar Land Rover launched its XEL model in cesium blue, whose color is designed and supplied by Axalta, targeting Chinese consumers born in the 1990s or later. The color is meant to convey style and dynamism, and is designed to resonate with Chinese consumers.

People who used to view Jaguar Land Rover as a traditional British-style company with conventional colors have now been put on notice that things are changing.


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