There's more behind that paint job than you think
By TONY WHITNEY
Most of us take the paint job on our car, van or pickup for granted these days, but there's more technology and creative effort than might be imagined in the field of automotive finishes.
Nothing looks better than a gleaming new vehicle standing on the showroom floor, but it didn't get that way without a lot of hard work by automotive paint specialists - unheralded folk who work behind the scenes in automakers' labs.
In recent years, there's been a strong environmental impact too and today's finishes are applied using techniques developed to minimize - or eliminate altogether - any chance of harmful paint overspray getting into the atmosphere.
Paint finishes on modern automobiles are vastly better than those of years ago. They are capable of withstanding all kinds of abuse and exposure without fading, peeling or otherwise deteriorating. Remember than when an auto manufacturer paints a car bodyshell, it has no idea whether the vehicle will end up spending its days out in the open in the Arctic, or being seared hour after hour under a desert sun. The finish has to be capable of toughing it out in both environments - and everything in between.
Color, too, is a vital part of automotive design and development. Automakers have to be ready for all kinds of customer demands when it comes to colors. Not too long ago, I spoke to a woman responsible for color development at a ''big three'' automaker. She told me that her staff watched fashion trends continually and planned years ahead to have the right colors ready when tastes changed among auto buyers. Surprisingly, the most influential sectors when it comes to car colors are home furnishings and menswear.
Of course, the car-buying public is fickle when it comes to which colors top the popularity polls, but some favourites seem to hang in year after year. Red has always been popular for sports cars and coupes and the editor of a major US auto magazine once told me that a red Corvette or Ferrari on the cover was worth a 12 to 15 per cent increase in newsstand sales. On the other hand, few buyers of high-end luxury models want a red car, preferring the subtlety of muted silver greys and other metallic shades. In fact, very few luxury cars are offered in bold, bright colors.
Sometimes, even the color forecasters are stymied by sudden shifts in buyer tastes. A few years back, any green car would be guaranteed a lonely spot at the back of the dealer's lot long after similar models in other hues had been sold. In recent years, green has become quite popular again and buyers are choosing anything from light ''pea'' shades to darker ''British racing'' finishes.
Color also has an effect on traffic safety, according to many studies. Evidently, light colored vehicles are less likely to get involved in an accident than dark ones - not surprising when considering that the majority of collisions occur during darkness. Researchers point out that the safest color of all is the orange/yellow color that enjoyed a brief period of popularity during the 1970s. Few auto buyers today would be ready to make such a sacrifice in style and that particular color has long disappeared from automakers' sales brochures.
It was Henry Ford, of course, who is reputed to have voiced the famous words ''you can have any color you like as long as it's black,'' but auto buyers today have reason to rejoice in the variety of colors available and in the durability of the finish.