Tastes change over the years, just like times and people. Back in the day, when cars were something of a novelty and paint tech was in its infancy, the palette ran from pure primary colors to something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

But over the years, as paint tech evolved and cars got cheaper and more commonplace, subtler metallic and Earth tones showed up to add a bit of interest without overwhelming the senses. For sure, there have been times and places when the roads once again began to look like a box of crayons — but even during the "high impact" days of the 1960s, cool blues and utilitarian whites were far and away the most common shades.

Today, subtle shades still dominate — but tastes have changed, and exactly how they’ve changed varies from place to place and market to market.

Continue reading for the full story.

White — 29 Percent Worldwide

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No, it’s not the most exciting color in the world; some would call it a "blank canvas." But that is kind of the point, after all. Many buyers over the last 20 years have preferred the straightforward minimalism of white and its simple industrial aesthetic — less so here in North America than in Asia, South America and Europe, but still the strongest color overall. Maybe.

While companies like DuPont and Axalta report white as the number one color, that probably has a lot to do with the fact that it is the default color for most fleet vehicles. White is far and away the most common color for trucks, SUVs, vans and tractor trailers; so the fact that this color comes in number one might be kind of a fix. Even so, it is what it is, and that’s currently the most common paint color in every market in the world. Except for India, oddly, where silver takes the top spot.

Black — 19 Percent Worldwide

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In most markets, black is the second-most popular color. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that it’s the single most-popular color on luxury and upscale vehicles — and that shows in its popularity among different markets.

In North America, Europe and Asia (particularly China), black comes in a pretty close second to white. However, in poorer and developing areas like India, Africa, South America and Russia, it’s at least a pretty distant third. Actually it’s in eighth place in India, between yellow and teal — but to be fair, India has always favored light-spirited colors. That’s likely a factor as well. "Light hearted" isn’t exactly the world most would choose for the Germans, though, who love black luxury cars and likely account for the fact that black is proportionally more popular in Europe than anywhere else.

Silver — 14 Percent Worldwide

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Silver held the numbers one and two spots for a long time here in North America, and it still does in a lot of places. As recently as 2011, it was number one here. But while Americans have largely come to see silver as the new beige, it remains the single most popular color in India at 31 percent. It holds the number two spot in South America, Russia and Africa — in those areas, more than half the cars in the countries are either white or silver. About the same as here a few years ago; as of right now though, silver occupies the number four spots in Europe and North America.

Around these parts, silver is still the first or second most popular color for crossover SUV buyers — probably on the basis that crossovers are the beige of motor vehicles. It’s still a popular color among luxury and sports car buyers, many of whom prefer to play it somewhat low key and let their cars do the talking.

Gray or Gray Effect — 12 Percent Worldwide

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In American and Europe, gray and gray-effect shades like charcoal or metallic black sit in third place, ahead of silver in both cases. It’s actually moved down a spot here as black has moved up, but still remains very popular among SUV, truck, compact, sport and crossover buyers. Most other places, gray and gray effect shades are in fourth place. Most places, that is, except for Mexico and South America — down there, they seem to hate gray, placing it below green and brown, and just above blue.

A lot of gray’s rise in popularity has to do with it tagging along with black. Many manufacturers offer shades of metallic gray that are so dark they almost look black at first glance. A lot of buyers would probably call them black, but they do technically qualify as gray.

Red — 9 Percent Worldwide

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And so completes the list of the only five colors you see in North America these days. In the States, red accounts for 12 percent of cars, and every other color that didn’t make this list comes in at a distant 7 percent or lower. Red is, in fact, the only actual "color" that’s popular here. It’s even higher on the list in Mexico and South America, which about match us on percentage of red cars. Red is in fourth place in India, but it’s a very distant fourth behind gray.

In short, red seems like one of those colors that’s really only popular in the Western World. It’s not totally hated in most of Asia, but South Koreans seem to have a particular distaste for crimson shades. About as much as Europeans, who also buy red cars at the rate of about 6 percent. In Europe, South Korea and Japan, they prefer blue to red — especially Europe, where blue is getting more and more popular by the day.

Dishonorable Mentions

Apart from "other," two colors dominate the bottom of the color listings worldwide. The second most hated colors are yellow and gold, which seem to have fallen a long way from their popularity a few decades ago. Back in the Disco era, gold, brown and shades in between were hugely popular; now they’re about as popular as pet rocks. But they’re nowhere near as unpopular as the very bottom of our list: the single most hated color in all of autodom. And the loser is...


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It’s swapped places with yellow/gold a few times and in a few places in recent years, but the consensus seems to be at this point that the definitive Earth-tone is just out like the Bee Gees. About the only places where green is remotely popular are South America and Russia — both rank it at 3 to 5 percent, roughly tied with brown. Which is kind of weird, considering how opposite the two are. One is in the rainforest, and the other is covered in snow three quarters of the year. There may be something psychological behind that. Or maybe they just drive a lot of old military surplus vehicles painted olive drab. Who knows? But either way, green on average is still the least popular of all colors in the world.

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