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Why white is now all right for cars
A decade ago, hardly anybody bought a white car. They weren’t popular, seen, I guess, as impersonal and prone to grubbiness.
It was a time when the concept of white-van man was alive in our minds and perhaps nobody wanted to be white-car person.
Back then, the number of new white cars was so low it didn’t even merit a column of its own in the statistics.
White cars were lumped into the "others section" along with yellow, beige, pink and orange. Silver and blue were the colours to have in 2004 - more than a third of cars that rolled out of showrooms were silver.
And now it’s all changed. Nearly a quarter of us are buying white motors and, judging by the ones I see driving around, most of them are 4x4s.
There is something wonderfully counter-intuitive about buying a car capable of driving through fields and rivers and asking for it to come in gleaming white, as if to shout out to the world "yes, I know I could have a decent crack at getting up Ben Nevis in this, but actually I’m going to make do with the front drive".
So what’s behind this renaissance in the colour white? Well, some have put it down to the rise of Apple and the company’s love of white technology. Frankly, I’m not convinced about this. For one thing, most phones have a cover put on them so they never look white; for another, my Mac stuff is all silver. And silver has fallen in popularity among car buyers.
Another theory has it that people buy white cars because they’re cheaper to repair after a ding. Here, we’re told metallic paint costs a fortune to respray while white paint doesn’t. I’m not sure whether that’s because it’s cheaper to buy, or whether you’re expected to use some Tippex to cover up a scratch, but I’m not convinved about that, either. From my experience, there is no cheap option for respraying a car. It starts at "surprisingly expensive" and goes north from there.
There’s the claim white cars resist heat better, but I suspect that’s more of a pressing problem in the Middle East (where white cars really do boss the place) than Watford.
So what’s going on? I consult the internet and ask what car colours say about drivers. Here, I find guidance from a woman called Leatrice Eisman (or "theatrical talisman" as my spellcheck would have it), who is an American expert in colours. Sorry, colors.
Leatrice knows her stuff, rattling off colour-based insight with disarming confidence. Black cars, she informs me, are often bought by confident people who also wear black clothes, silver cars suggest "elegance with a bit of flash", grey cars are owned by people who make lists (I promise I am not making this up), and you can "probably trust" the owner of a blue car.
On the thorny issue of white cars, I can almost hear Leatrice leaning back in her (surely immaculate) office chair and staring off into the Californian sunset (this is a guess, by the way - she could be from some industrial suburb in Michigan for all I know, but I prefer to imagine her starting at pleasantly coloured rivers, beaches and mountains). White car owners, she declares to the internet world, "are hard to please". Why, oh why? "These are people who generally like things to be very pure and pristine and clear and direct. There’s nothing you can hide under the color (see - I told you she was American) white. The woman (her assumption - not mine) who chooses a white ride is more likely to keep her car super clean. And she lives the rest of her life this way, too."
So there you have it. People buy white cars because they like clean things and Leatrice insists she is an expert. Yes? Well, probably no. But it’s the best thing we’ve got so far.
As intriguing as the rise of white cars, though, is the decline of red. From nine per cent of the market to just about nothing now. Leatrice’s view on red is a little baffling - she says there are two types of red: "vibrant and deep blue" - but the general view seems to be that red car drivers are outgoing, dynamic and energetic.
Which makes me feel transformed, because I have that rarity sitting outside - a red car. Yes, it’s a decade old and no it’s a family hatchback rather than a scarlet sports car (Leatrice uses a picture of a Ferrari California, pleasingly enough), but if she wants to categorise me as dynamic and exciting, who am I to argue?
It’s mostly nonsense, of course. You can’t categorise people by car colour any more than you can categorise them by star sign. The idea that everyone driving a black car shares the same set of traits would mean all London taxis were driven by, effectively, the same person. Everyone in a yellow car would have a "sunny disposition", and try telling that to anyone who’s tried hailing a cab in New York.
But there is something odd about this white car revival. Not only do big white 4x4s make me think, just a little bit, of UN peacekeepers, but white saloons look like police cars. This might be handy - my dad had a white Rover when I was a boy and we’d be let out at junctions after people mistook him for the police - but it might not be the look you’re after. And white sports cars? Really?
On all these matters, Leatrice is, frankly, unhelpful. The fact is that car colours are about fashion, and they move through phases.
So it’s white now, but change is already coming. The next thing is, so I’m told - BROWN!
Yes, I know, I know. Who'd want a car that looks like mud, or worse.
But honestly, it’s what my car friends tell me.
It won’t actually be called brown, of course - it'll be copper, and gold, and coffee and chocolate, and lots of other emollient words, but at its heart it will be brown.
What a prospect that is.
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