News Column

Steve Jobs was Right, Car Buyers Love White

Oct. 9, 2012

Joyce Gannon

white care

White is once again tops among car colors.

In its annual study of automotive color trends worldwide, PPG Industries found white was the most popular shade for vehicles overall, though silver tied with white for the top car color in Asia.

White symbolizes new, fresh technology, and that's something consumers crave, said Jane Harrington, manager of color styling for PPG's automotive coatings business based in Troy, Mich.

Just look to tech darling Apple for proof, she said. "They introduce all their new products in white. That has had a positive impact in how consumers view them."

While white ranked first as the color on 22 percent of vehicles worldwide, silver came in second with 20 percent, followed by black, 19 percent; gray, 12 percent; red, 9 percent; natural, 8 percent; blue, 7 percent; green, 2 percent; and others, 1 percent. The ranking varies slightly in North America.

PPG based the survey on data supplied by automakers.

Car colors are big business for the Downtown-based coatings, glass and chemicals maker. Its automotive coatings segment is part of the industrial coatings unit, which reported $4.1 billion in sales last year. Automotive coatings account for about half of the segment, or roughly $2 billion.

With the auto industry experiencing a healthy recovery since the economy crashed in 2008, PPG is enjoying the ride.

"We're growing much faster than the market and expect to grow faster for the next two years," said Cynthia Niekamp, senior vice president, automotive coatings. "From 2008 to 2010 were very difficult years in North America in particular. Since that time, North American production has bounced back and PPG's business has bounced back totally."

Last week, automakers said they expected September sales to top 1.1 million vehicles, up 11 percent from September 2011. For the year, analysts are forecasting sales of about 14 million, up from just under 13 million last year.

In 2009, auto sales dipped to a 30-year low of 10.4 million.

Besides robust sales at U.S. carmakers -- including General Motors and Chrysler, which restructured following government bailouts -- PPG's auto coatings business is getting a boost from foreign companies that are building assembly plants in North America, said Ms. Niekamp.

It has also benefited from strong growth in China, Korea, Brazil and India where it operates joint coatings ventures.

But, "We're finding business tougher in Europe" where the overall economy is weak, she said.

While the Asia-Pacific region turned out more silver vehicles than elsewhere in the world (23 percent compared with 16 percent in North America and 13 percent in Europe), it also produced more cars in natural colors (10 percent versus 7 percent in North America and 7 percent in Europe).

Natural includes shades of brown and orange, hues that are increasingly showing up in interior design and fashion "and are starting to emerge globally," said Ms. Harrington.

Don't discount blue and green, though. Pastel versions of those colors are popular for hybrid vehicles, said Ms. Niekamp. "Those customers are looking to project a certain image to be consistent with the brand. You'll see white as well, but pastel blue and metallic pastel green can portray nature and water."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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