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« Pixelvision Meets Thongworld | Main | Pic of the Day »

August 30, 2003

The Color of Animal Spirits?


As an old son of Detroit, I probably put too much emphasis on cars as a reflection of the temper of the times. But since I canít help myself, I figure I might as well share at least one of my zaney automotive theories with you.

This one concerns car color. To be specific, that very intense shade of yellow they started marketing, mostly on sporty cars, about three years ago. Iíve been wondering if that yellow would ever catch on and rival, say, bright red in the car market. So far its popularity has been spottyónot accelerating to escape velocity and becoming a major presence in the market, but not disappearing altogether, either.

Should We Call this Color Post-Bubble Yellow?

Given the timing, I have been unable to avoid associating the on-again, off-again presence of this sporty new color with the on-again, off-again performance of the economy. Itís as if the car manufacturers used this color to test the emotional waters, to take the temperature of the post-bubble economy. I wonder if Alan Greenspan and the Fed take statistics like the penetration of jazzy new colors in the car market when evaluating how much stimulus to apply to the economy? (Or, if not, maybe they should.)

Okay, so itís another one of my crazy ideas. But I wonder if there isnít a doctoral thesis for some behavioral economist in there somewhere.



posted by Friedrich at August 30, 2003


I remember hearing something similar to this a long time ago, namely, that clothing colors followed the economic trend. In a bad economy, designers used mostly shades of brown (never black, as that would be too depressing) and in a good economy, they tended toward brighter, happier colors. Perhaps the car theory is similar to this. I wonder what the fall colors will be this year!?

Posted by: brenda on August 30, 2003 06:42 PM

My dad spent his career in the auto industry. He's convinced that the primary selling proposition for a car, beyond minimum levels of performance and reliability, is the emotional content of the design. The popularity of impractical cars like sports cars, or cars that have unused capabilities, like SUVs, expresses some emotion of the owner.

The bright yellow paint of the car represents a pathological desire for attention. It wasn't popular in the more modest days gone by, but expresses the lust of some to be noticed at all costs. See Michael's prior post on thongs and tatoos for further evidence of this spreading attitude.

Posted by: cks on August 30, 2003 06:59 PM

Personnally, when I see the model that sports what I think of as nursing diaper poop yellow, I cringe and look away. Give me basic blue, green or grey any day.

It's right up there with that particularly ugly color of lime green that's in womens's summer fashions. Doesn't the person wearing it know it makes them look either sickly or like a lime popsicle?

Posted by: Deb on August 30, 2003 07:33 PM


The whole commercial color-palette thing is very mysterious to me, in part because it's unclear if the designers are creating or responding to color trends. Ordinarily, one would say responding, but in many cases designers pick these colors out anywhere from 6 to 18-months ahead of production. But since people make choices in real time, it doesn't surprise me the bouyancy of the economy plays a role in their selections.


I would agree, except I don't see yellow as a whole lot more "look at me" color than red, which has a long tradition in the automobile industry. Although I guess you could say that red stands for blood which stands for liveliness, while I guess I remember somewhere reading that black on a yellow ground is the most visually attention-getting color combination. (Which apparently explains why they use those colors on life rafts.) So maybe you're right, and the emotional symbolism of this color indicates that we've not just "vital" but are deadly serious about getting noticed! Along these lines, a attractive young woman I knew got a brilliant yellow convertible, which she got rid of shortly thereafter; apparently she attracted a bit too much masculine attention (from jerks) on a yellow background.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on August 30, 2003 07:34 PM

Fried, you're probably a genius.

Anyone know how early car colors are picked? I know that in this day and age, thanks to the speed at which one can set up a factory in a trade free zone, clothes can go from the drawing board to Target faster than ever before, but I believe that with cars and appliances, there's at least a few months lead time.

Also, taxi-cab yellow vehicles are an abomination unto god. Purple cars don't work, either, but I'm still thinking of painting my old car low-rider iridescent metal-flake mauve.

Posted by: j.c. on August 31, 2003 05:27 PM

J. C.--I had a hard time paying attention to anything after you called me a genius, but I'm sure whatever it was is very insightful. Come back and call me a genius anytime.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 1, 2003 12:57 AM

I've wondered about this kind of thing, too. It seems like car colors have been so boring for so long. Silver, gold, black, white, red. Period. Blah! Does anyone else remember when car colors were cool? My mother owned two different orange cars and a metallic green Maverick at one time. You can't find those colors anymore. A rich, metallic blue BMW, that would be nice. And while I don't think it's always about calling attention to yourself - someone may just want a more lively color for their car - a bright yellow Hummer really says, "Look at me!" more than anything else.

Posted by: Alexandra on September 1, 2003 11:03 AM

Alexandra -
You mean like this:

If you want to get snazzy, bring back two-tone and woodwork.

Posted by: j.c. on September 1, 2003 06:48 PM

I'd love a Jaguar in British Racing Green. Fast and classy.

We HAVE a car with two tone paint and woodwork--it's a Morris Minor Traveler Woody from 1963. Not exactly a babe magnet, as my 15 year old likes to point out, but it does have a certain cachet.

Posted by: Deb on September 1, 2003 07:10 PM

Oooh, British racing green. Jaguars. Call me Ausin Powers Blowhards, I don't care. That's about as cool as cool can be.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 1, 2003 10:52 PM

That bright yellow is the most visible color in poor light conditions. Sailors wear yellow slickers so they can be seen if they fall overboard in bad weather. I've read that the accident rates of white and yellow vehicles differ markedly from black or red ones. It's a wonder the government hasn't decided to regulate color.

Posted by: Alan Sullivan on September 2, 2003 01:46 PM

Did you two retards ever think that this person just likes yellow and therefore purchased a yellow SUV. Or maybe because of idiots like you, the resale value of this color is poor and he got a great deal on a 2 year old Range Rover?

Posted by: Brian on May 7, 2004 11:36 AM

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