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New car colours – it’s a bit of a grey area

It seems UK car buyers are a colourless lot, as grey remains the most popular choice for new car paintwork.

The colour choice for Britain’s new cars is not as black and white as you might think. In fact, it’s actually a mixture of both: grey is once again the UK’s most popular new car colour.

It’s the third year in a row that the dull hue has taken top spot, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), and it shows that Britain’s motorists are in a monochrome mood. With grey sitting firmly at the top the top of the colour chart in 2020, black was second choice with white taking third spot.

This trend by UK motorists to choose grey, black and white for their new car, proves that they have turned their backs on the more exciting reds and blues of the past for their new wheels, and have chosen instead to go for a more monochrome look. That might be a consequence of the continuing Covid lockdown restrictions, or maybe it’s rubbing off from motor dealers who have had a tough 12 months in terms of new car registrations. New car registrations for last year fell more than 29% to 1.6 million, compared with 2.3 million in 2019.

The UK’s most popular new car colours, 1999 – 2020. Source: SMMT

In total, almost a quarter (24%) of all new cars were painted grey and, with black and white so high among the choices, more than six in ten (62%) of all new cars entering British roads in 2020 were painted in these three monochrome colours. 

Yellow increased its market share by 50% but equivalent to only 6,816 sales. Red saw its registrations drop below 200,000 for the first time in a decade to 147,222, recording its worst tally since 1997.

While the top colour for both petrol and diesel cars was grey – 248,182 and 84,489 registered respectively – white was the most in-demand tint for zero emission battery electric vehicles (BEVs) with 25,689 painted in it. Black was the most popular shade for plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) with 17,989 registered.

Unlike 2019, which saw Scotland and the Channel Islands bucking the national trend, in 2020 grey was the unanimous colour of choice across the UK. Indeed, the only counties to not opt for grey cars as their number one choice were the Isle of Wight and Borders, where blue was the most popular tint, and Strathclyde which saw white take the top spot.

Leicestershire, meanwhile, was the most popular location for pink cars, with 24% of the UK’s total registered in the region, while buyers in the West Midlands snapped up the most orange cars. While white was the most popular shade for the mini segment, luxury saloons and executive cars were most likely to be black.

Overall, there were 106 different distinct colours registered throughout the year. And the least popular colour? Maroon.

The last 20 years of new car registrations have all been pretty monochrome: grey, white, black and silver. You have to go back all the way to 1999 to find a time when an actual colour – blue – was more popular than greyscale options.

One of the key reasons that monochrome tones are so popular is their neutrality. Most people don’t actively dislike grey, so it can be a compromise option. This also helps when it comes to selling your car down the track: you might love your car in neon green, but a majority of buyers won’t. That makes it harder to sell and potentially reduces its value.

The popularity of particular colours can also create a loop that becomes self-perpetuating. If a dealer has a car on the showroom floor in a certain colour, more customers will tend to order a similar model in the same colour. This is often because they can see the car for themselves in that colour, rather than relying on a brochure or a small square of paint sample to try and guess what the car will look like in real life.
Stuart Masson, Editor

Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.
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