What’s black and white and gray all over? New cars

PHOTO: R. Nial Bradshaw, Flickr CC-BY

Prince sang about a little red Corvette. Bruce Springsteen told of a pink Cadillac. It’s hard to picture a ’57 Chevy that isn’t that perfect shade of blue.

Chances are, the car of your dreams rolls through your mind in living color. Nobody fantasizes about a white Toyota Camry, even though — statistically speaking — that’s probably what you’ll end up driving.

In 1996, 60% of cars were some version of red, blue, purple, green, gold, brown, maroon or yellow. In 2019, more than 79% were black, white, silver or gray. The top three vehicles sold in the U.S. are all pickup trucks: the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado and Dodge Ram, respectively. A considerable majority of these trucks are black, white or silver.

Several reasons explain this descent into automotive blandness.

For one thing, brighter colors cost more, adding several hundred dollars to the price of a new vehicle. Marcus Lu of Visual Capitalist reported in December that the average price of a new car increased by 60 percent over the past decade. Trimming color off the list of options helps save a few bucks. Dealers without huge sales volumes tend to stock the basic colors for the same reason. That’s why it seems like everyone on the western Mesabi drives a white pickup truck.

In a 2020 piece for Motor Biscuit, Jimmy Brown posits several other ideas for why black, white and gray cars are so popular. For one thing, cars use more technology than ever. These bland car colors seem to match the look of trendy new phones, tablets and personal computers.

Another reason, says Brown, is that some view white and black as symbolic of wealth. Some elites will only be seen in jet black limos and luxury SUVs. Discrete shades of white and black blend into their surroundings. Easy to pretend you’re a big shot ducking the paparazzi. Perhaps some of us see ourselves that way when we roll up in our onyx Chevy Malibu.

I know plenty of people who prefer buying black or white cars because they’re easier to keep clean. I never believed them because of my personal experiences with black and white clothing. But then we bought a used white Honda Civic for our sons to drive to school and work. My wife and I drive colorful cars that spend most of the year looking like overturned outhouses because of our long dirt road. The kids’ white Honda actually looks less dirty.

One of our vehicles is a Honda CR-V that came in what we thought was a “pretty blue” color. But in fact, the color is called “Sonic Gray.” When I’m paying at the gas station, the clerks often say “Oh, you have the gray car.” And I have to say, “Would we call that gray? More of a blue, really, don’t you think?” Then they tell me the amount and conclude the transaction in silence.

Just a couple weeks ago, a gas station clerk referred to the car as blue and I was so happy. “Oh, thank you for calling it blue. You know they sell it as “sonic gray” but I really do think it’s more blue.” And then she told me the amount and we concluded the transaction in silence. I might be too sensitive about this.

Like many Iron Rangers, I’ve driven cars with mismatched doors and hood. Having a car with just one color is a privilege, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so picky about which color it is. But I do think that there is value in owning a car that can be located in the parking lot of a hockey arena without having to hit the beeper.

As I reviewed car manufacturer websites for this column, I notice that few makes even produce bright colors these days. People will pay the same price for something that costs less even though its boring. Why would car companies stop? The market speaks in dreary monotone.

But if I ever hit it rich, it’ll be a bright blue luxury sedan for me. I’ll be new money, tacky and brash, and I’ll know where I parked.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, March 9, 2024 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Ha! I drive a white Toyota Camry. The ones before it were a grey Camry, a Black Fusion, and a grey/silver Fusion. But then before those it was a dark blue Mustang, and a teal (yes, teal!) Thunderbird.

  2. As a traveler, I noticed car lots in different areas of the country are more or less likely to offer secondary based on location. More green cars in the Pacific Northwest, more blue and brown cars in the southwest, etc, with my observations, would purple then be offered in Colorado?

  3. Kathleen Jokela says

    Might this trend have originated with the Japanese/Asian cultural norm that states,”the nail that sticks up,gets hammered down”? Uniformity is highly valued in Asian cultures,particularly Japan. Toyota is the largest producer of cars in America.

  4. joe musich says

    Boy that old 1970 orange Karmin Ghia was difficult to match when the invitable damage occurred. It’s a car. if the paint is uniform in order to spend more to improve mileage and have less co2 and other unsafe effluents going out the tailpipe a uniform color is a great trade off. Maybe a vinly wrap subscription service might be the answer. You could have warp of you biggest fish or dead deer cover your car. Or other things of course, A partial wrap could be 500 bucks.

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