To think that Henry Ford once said the buyer of a Model T “could have his car in any color he wants, so long as it’s black.”

Ford now believes you buy your car on color. It isn’t the price. It isn’t the equipment. Those are important, to be sure. But if it isn’t the color you want, you’re not going to buy it.
Ford has researched this and it has numbers backing up these statements. 60% of the cars sold in America are either white, black, red, or silver. Moreover, 40% of potential new car buyers will look elsewhere if a dealer does not have the color the buyer wants in stock. In fact, the research also shows that buyers will pay more to get the color they want.
So Ford is going after “paint leadership,” as Susan Lampinen, Ford’s group chief engineer for colors, puts it. “This is a huge change. We know that [color] is something that seals the deal.”
What she’s referring to is Ford’s plan to completely revamp its paint palate. By 2009, 45% of Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln vehicles will be produced with completely new colors. The company is showing off a few of those new colors on Mercurys displayed this week at Fashion Week in New York City. 
A few of the new colors are already in production. The Edge is available with “blazing copper.” Lincoln offers “white chocolate,” pictured here. And the numbers back up Ms. Lampinen’s point: “chocolate white” is a $495.00 option on Lincolns. Despite the price, fully 30% of Lincoln buyers are selecting that color. Moreover, cars with that color sell, on average, 11 days more quickly than cars painted any other color.
Ford’s chief paint designer, Jon Hall, says that Ford will be producing a sophisticated paint palate. Designers and engineers at Ford began the process three years ago, seeking inspirations from a variety of sources, such as decadent foods, fashionable consumer and electronics items, and clothing fashions. “We figure if customers are going to commit to a brightly colored washer and dryer or sofa, for instance, they’re also apt to chose a bolder colored vehicle,” according to Hall.
Here’s a sampling of the names of some of the new colors and some details about how they’ll be different: “Tuxedo Black” will feature glass flakes embedded in the paint for a rich sparkle. It will be introduced on the forthcoming 2008 Lincoln MKS sedan. New whites will emulate seashells and ice cream, rather than being appliance white. “Kiwi Green” and “Ice Blue” metallic paints are intentionally feminine pastel shades for the Escape and Mercury Mariner. “Vapor” and “Earth” are aimed at a more masculine taste. Vapor is a smoky silver metallic, Earth is an incandescent bronze. Then there’s Grabber Orange for the Mustang, a name used in the 1970’s on the Boss 302 and Boss 428 Mustangs. 
Ford is also developing new paint processes for these colors. Some cars, for example, will be getting three coats of pearl, others may use tinted clear coats, and Ford may also produce some two color paint combinations. It is also working on a way to cut down the time it takes to apply paint by applying successive coats of paint while the layer below is still somewhat wet. If Ford is successful at that, it figures to cut production costs by $7 per car. That may not sound like much, but spread over a year’s production it isn’t small change.

Actually, this is a case of history repeating itself. Model T Fords originally were available in several different colors, some of them very bright. Henry Ford’s famous remark about black cars was the product of a change in technology. One of the huge problems Ford had in mass producing the Model T was the length of time it took for the paint to dry. It required them to give bodies several days between painting and assembly of the car. A few years after the T’s introduction, however, DuPont developed a new automotive paint that dried in 30 minutes. But, at the time, they only offered it in one color: black.
More recently, however, the European luxury brands have shown that a buyer and his or her dollar can be parted to an amazing degree by offering special paints as an extra cost option. Mercedes-Benz, for example, charges $1150 for special order paints and interior trims. Porsche charges $690 for special paint on the 911. Bentley maintains an entire division in the company to cater to requests from customers for personalization of their new cars. And now Ford’s getting in on the act.
It’s the trickle down theory of paint.

What do you think?
Show Comments


tango  (372) posted on 09.14.2007

I suppose I’m the exception to that rule. Couldn’t care less what colour a car is as long as it meets my mechanical demands and I can afford it...well...that’s the voice of somebody who has never bought a new car. Maybe I’d be a bit more picky if I was planning to plop down hundreds of thousands on a Bentley.

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