Ford famously once offered customers any colour they wanted so long as it was black. These days customers are more discerning and new cars can be ordered in a bewildering array of shades and with personalisation packages enabling user-choosers to specify different colours for roofs, bonnets, door mirrors, interior trims and wheels.
The trend became popular with the first generation of BMW’s Mini, a car, like its forebear, that lent itself to exterior and interior personalisation with colour choice being a significant factor in its continued success story. Current models offering a degree of personalisation include the Citroën DS3, Renault Captur and Nissan Juke. Even SsangYong has joined the party with its newly launched Tivoli. However, Vauxhall’s Adam, with its million different specification and trim combinations takes the biscuit for the widest choice available to a car buyer.
But is all this choice good for business? Colour choice is fickle with even popular neutral colours slipping in and out of fashion. According to the SMMT, in 2014 the most popular new car colour, for the second year running, was white, accounting for nearly a quarter (22%) of all registrations followed by black and grey (see panel). This was the highest penetration of white cars since 1996 and marked a turnaround for a colour which accounted for just under 10% of new car sales as recently as 2010 and less than 1% in 2005.
So what’s this got to do with fleets? For company car drivers the colour of the car is often up there with the badge, BiK rating and combined fuel consumption. However, there’s a view that fleet managers should have more control over colour choice because a metallic orange car acquired now, on a user-chooser’s whim, could limit its second-hand appeal and therefore impact the residual values. If white can swing in and out of fashion how will that Sahara Sunrise Yellow or Latte Brown fair in three years time?
According to Glass’s, the trade bible for used values, dealers have an important role to play when it comes to advising fleets on the best possible colours to maximise on re-sale values. In many cases it’s in both parties’ interest as these cars will often end up on the supplying dealer’s used forecourt.
“The trend towards increasing personalisation of cars is creating a situation where the trade finds a growing number of models difficult to value and tricky to sell,” said Rupert Pontin, Glass’s head of valuations.
“Factors such as colour have always had a large impact on residual values but the trend towards increasing visual personalisation is magnifying the effect. You could have two Vauxhall Adams that are ostensibly the same on paper but, in the metal, are clearly hundreds or thousands of pounds apart in value because of choices that the original buyer made.
“There are some very cosmetically compromised cars around with colour, trim and wheel combinations that looked good to the first owner on the original order form but are not so attractive in the auction hall.”
Pontin said that one of the issues surrounding these cars was that the attractiveness of these vehicles was so subjective that it was difficult to know how individual used buyers would react.
“The mauve supermini with a tartan roof and yellow door mirrors running on 13-inch white alloys might look horrendous to a middle aged man like me but great to a 17-year old who has just passed their test. The problem is that the trade finds it very difficult to know how to value some of these vehicles so will tend to price them down in order to minimise the financial risk.”
Pontin believes dealers can play an important role in advising fleet managers and user-choosers on the colours which will see the best returns on the used market.
“Part of the fun of these vehicles is being able to specify all kinds of options but sometimes dealer sales people must know when they hit the order button that they are creating a dud. They arguably have a duty to point out to the fleet customer that some of the decisions they are making are very likely to have a direct impact on the resale value of their vehicle.”
One thing’s for sure, the ubiquity of black may not be where it was back in Henry Ford’s day but with it accounting for 19% of all new cars sold in 2014, it’s not going out of style in a hurry.
Most popular car colours 2014
Most popular car colours 2010