September 11, 2013

Developing the Perfect Color – Michelle Killen

"Color is making its way back into the automotive market and in a strong fashion"

Our team at Chevrolet is very excited for the launch of three new stirring colors for the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic. After years of watching color trends make a big splash back into the minds of our customers, our team came together in a strong way and we definitely feel that the Sonic is going to shine with these new shades. One thing about our Sonic buyers is that they especially note the exterior palette as an important factor in their purchase process, so we really wanted to provide a refresh to the Sonic brand and cater to our customers.

These three unique, expressive colors definitely deliver to those who want something are looking to jump out of the mold:

  • The first in the series, Deep Magenta Metallic, is a chromatic plum and will be a limited edition color available only from August until October. We often give internal names to colors we develop and we called this one “ladies and gentleman” because it’s a deeper, more masculine pink. It also has a throwback to hot rods, because the color darkens as it reaches the bottom of the vehicle.
  • The second in the series and also a limited edition color is Cool Blue, which will be available from November until March. Internally, we called this one, “blue a-go-go.” It’s a play on the Richard Petty Blue, except we gave it an urban feel by grading the color so it’s less chromatic and bright and more grayish.
  • The third color will be a permanent addition to the Sonic palette and will be available the first quarter of 2014. Dragon Green, which we internally called, “green o’clock,” is a very bright, chromatic green with a performance and racing-type flavor.

The limited edition colors really cater to those who want something not everyone else will have. We envision the driver to be someone who is younger, perhaps an athlete who is into an extreme sport such as snowboarding. Logos and gear in extreme sports are very bright in order to stand out in their environments, much like these colors will draw attention to and highlight the Sonic.

On a stylistic point, all three of these colors are designed for a smaller vehicle. You obviously wouldn’t see them on a full-size truck. They showcase the Sonic’s form and highlight the chrome accents on the exterior in a way traditional colors may not.

I mentioned we’ve been developing the new colors for years and this is because colors are normally developed four years in advance, so it’s important we watch market trends closely to determine what will be relevant by the time it launches. In the case of Deep Magenta Metallic, we saw the success of the Luscious Kiss Pink Chevrolet Spark in South Korea (Techno Pink in the U.S) and watched the pink trend develop into a brighter, more chromatic and more masculine pink. We thought the Sonic would be a great place to show off the new pink.

Usually we watch a color start in lower cost items such as fashion and sunglasses. If it starts to make its way into higher end fashion, furniture and consumer products throughout the year, then we know it’s probably a good cue for automotive.

When developing new colors, it’s important to understand how pigments and colors shift depending on the vehicle. We paint full-size vehicles to test the colors to make sure it works with each specific vehicle’s body styling, feature lines and chrome accents. The same color can look completely different on one vehicle than another.

For example, we once painted a Corvette and a Camaro the same bright green color and it was quite astonishing how different the same palette looked on each vehicle because of how it interacted with the unique design of each model. The headlamps sit so deep on the Camaro compared to the Corvette that it looked like two different colors when you viewed it from the front.

Overall, color is making its way back into the automotive market and in a strong fashion. When the economy was down, consumers were sticking by less exotic colors because they wanted to retain a higher resale value or they were keeping their cars longer. Now with the upturn, people are happier and more inclined to buy expressive shades. Hopefully we’ll start to see more than just black, white, silver and gray while sitting at a red light.

Michelle Killen,GM,General Motors,automotive designers,technology, pigment,trendMichelle Killen is the lead creative designer in General Motors’ color and trim studio and an exterior paint expert for Chevrolet In her current role, Killen helps determine color trends for GM automobiles.

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