When asked which colors will dominate the automobile market in 2010, “Color Proposals” project manager Helga Wolf of Merck’s Pigments/Coatings business has to laugh. “I’d be really happy if I knew the exact answer to that,” she says. “There are relatively reliable indicators, of course. We’re seeing something of a comeback for red, for instance, as well as the continuing popularity of blue and black. White also remains a trend and, together with gray, will reduce the share of silver tones. These trends are being complemented by subtle glitter and iridescent effects.”
It’s more difficult to identify long-term color trends in the automotive sector than in the fashion world, for example, because vehicle color cycles last much longer. It takes years to progress from an initial idea to implementation of new “worlds of color.” Merck has been supporting the automotive coating industry for 15 years with its “Automotive Color Proposals” brochure. The publication features a total of 60 color and effect styles developed on the basis of Merck research, with the styles divided into six color worlds. “Fruitful World,” for example, is inspired by the colors of fruits and berries, spanning the spectrum from dynamic red to pink and bluish red tones. Other color worlds include “Aquatic World” (emphasis on blue tones) and “Botanic World” (green and earthy colors).
The color world “Fruitful World” is inspired by the colors of fruits and berries
All the paint manufacturers’ proposals need to be practically feasible and appropriate for the production systems of the respective manufacturers. For this reason, all questions concerning technical feasibility of new effects and pigments (as well as costs, availability, and shelf life) are addressed at the development stage. Also required here is continual communication with designers from the automotive industry, as a means of generating new ideas and rapidly implementing them.
The future takes on color
“One of the people we work with is the internationally renowned color designer Annabel Alton,” Wolf reports. “She provides us with key inspiration for our work. We also obtain input for future trend colors from trade fairs and magazines — and from the customers themselves.” This explains why the latest influences from the worlds of art, politics, and technology are constantly reflected in paint tones. Popular colors are ultimately an expression of a society’s mood: “That’s why the 1970s were marked by many flashy colors, which in some cases surprised us and may also have been an offshoot of the hippie era,” says Wolf. “Orange-colored Volkswagen Beetles were already an established element of the street scene, but purple was not necessarily something that could have been foreseen.”
The various influences have to be filtered because they originate from furniture, design, and other trade fairs, whose trends are much more short-lived than those in the automotive industry. It takes between three and five years for a color idea to appear on an actual automobile. Merck employees also monitor sociocultural developments in Europe and around the world in order to make intercultural comparisons. “We always keep our eyes and ears open because we need to discern and analyze trends,” Wolf explains.
The most recent result is “The Changing World of Color,” a feature in the latest edition of Merck’s “Automotive Color Proposals” that highlights inspiring worlds of automotive colors for the 2010–2012 model years. On the one hand, the color worlds are based on natural, environmental, ethical, and technical considerations, while also taking into account glitter and other effects, as well as homogenous color motifs. When implementing such color worlds, it’s particularly important to achieve the right mixture of various pigments that create color effects, use the proper amount of additive in relation to the other ingredients of a paint, and determine the right coating thickness. All parameters must also be aligned with the systems used by paint manufacturers.
Automotive coatings have long since moved beyond serving a purely protective function; these days they also convey meaning and express a driver’s lifestyle. Most purchasers of brands in the upper price segment opt for subdued colors. A dark-toned vehicle in black or silver-gray sends a solid and serious message, for example. Color is an expression of emotion, after all, one that enables vehicle owners to set themselves apart and establish a unique identity. Color preferences have also changed over the decades: In the 1970s many vehicles featured aluminum pigments that created a metallic effect. In the following decade the trend moved toward pearl luster pigments, mainly in the form of Merck’s Iriodin product, which conjured up an elegant gloss for vehicles. And in the 1990s Merck’s Colorstream led to the creation of pigments that made iridescent effects possible, while new, semitransparent glitter effects were achieved in the next evolutionary stage, with the help of Xirallic.