Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hot Cocoa & Hotter Cars

A Cocoa & Conversation Vignette, by Valerie Williams-Sanchez

One of the most rewarding parts of whipping up a batch of premium hot cocoa is the visual treat of seeing cocoa powder release its chestnut color and rich scent into milk. Valrhona cocoa powder in particular creates deep, vibrant and ruddy hues that emerge and merge, signaling the true luxury experience at hand.  

The sumptuous color exudes decadence.

Lush and luscious, varied tones of the chocolate spectrum are finding their way into other facets of upscale lifestyles, particularly on U.S. and international roads and highways.

Awash in an automotive field of S.U.V.s and sedans offered in mind-numbing arrays of grey, a few models of various makes stand out for their rich exterior color, tones evocative of velvety smooth experiences with cocoa, both hot and cool. 

But such hues for car coatings don't suit everyone. Saturated earthen tones, including brown, claimed less than 10% market share of the automotive paint industry, according to reports from PPG Industries, a leader in pigments and color coatings.

Each year the Troy, Michigan-based company hosts the Automotive Color Trends Show and publishes statistics from and for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). In 2012, PPG released report data that quantified and reinforced the status quo. As in years past, more colorful tones came up woefully short against perennial, global favorites white and black, which rank #1 and #3 respectively.

Top Automotive Exterior Colors
  • White -- 22%
  • Silver -- 20%
  • Black -- 19%
  • Gray -- 12%
  • Red -- 9% 
  • Natural -- 8%
  • Blue -- 7%
  • Green -- 2%
  • Other colors -- 1%
(source PPG Industries media release www.ppg.com,  2012)
Rich and luxurious tones of brown, nonetheless, are making gains. A precursor for concept and production cars to come, some 19 of the 64 new colors PPG introduced in 2012 were in the brown spectrum, including Chocolate Brown (RAL 8017), Chestnut Brown (RAL 8015) and Terra Brown (RAL 8028).

“The palette being developed for the automotive segment continues to be influenced by culture, nature, fashion, interior design, color popularity and new pigment technology,” according to a release from PPG Industries following the show.

In the world of automotive, hot cocoa hues seem reserved for refined palettes which, more and more, are turning luxury touring cars and active Sports Utility Vehicles into chocolate-dipped chariots. Just peruse offers in the luxury automotive competitive set and findings will confirm, hot cocoa color is top-shelf special, included in product offers which can and do demand premium pricing.

Great chocolate of any type ain't cheap.

Earthy, organic tones appear on models which can hover in the highest pricing echelons of the luxury segment. Often offered as a custom coating, spangled, glossy and shimmering cocoa tones can fetch from $475 to $720, or higher, depending on the model and automaker.

“Our consumer research has clearly shown that color is critically important to car buyers,” said Jane E. Harrington, PPG manager, color styling, automotive OEM coatings. The translation to auto makers: exterior color can be a deal-breaking proposition for many, according to PPG statistics.

In 2011, PPG surveyed consumers and found that 77 percent said exterior color was a factor in their automotive purchase decision. And, nearly half, 45 percent of respondents said they would prefer a wider range of color choices, data which could be driving OEM's investment in succulent colors, despite recession-driven dips in industry sales.

Color to Cruise and Savor
Like choosing a beverage to sip or swig, those shopping for large luxury cars and larger, premium SUVs – more frequently than those looking for high-performance coupes, compacts and sub-compact sedans – have more than a few chocolate tones from which to choose.

Mocha Match-ups by Make and Monikers (listed alphabetically)
  • Acura – Amber Brownstone
  • Audi – Teak Brown Metallic (for Q5 and Q7 only)
  • BMW -- Mojave and Marrakesh
  • Infinity – Midnight Garnet and Dark Currant (QX only)
  • Jaguar – Caviar and Caviar Metallic
  • Lexus – Fire Agate
  • Mercedes Benz – Cuprite Brown and Mystic Brown
  • Volvo – Terra Bronze (XC60) and Twilight Bronze (S80)

A sampling of luxury automakers' offers suggests that while cocoa connoisseurs enjoy performance, more chose to cruise in cocoa, rather than race. The indulgent tone is often concentrated on offers for full-sized sedans and more substantive SUVs. Typically, sports suspensions and racing performance product lines eschew cocoa-tones.

"A pit stop en route to New York Auto Show for City Bakery Hot Cocoa in my XC60. Volvo calls the color Terra Bronze. To me, it is hot cocoa."

On the other side of the cash register, Judy Ray of Crevier Motors BMW, in Santa Ana, Calif. said she has observed that brown tends to attract a more subtle customer than those looking for status grey.  

Ray said, chocolate tones "seem to be preferred by those looking to please their own palette, lifestyle and emotional preference."

Climate, culture -- which can effect the way colors are regarded -- and gender, a determining factor in color-blindness, can affect the way colors, including brown, are perceived. They are but a few factors that impact popularity and take-rates.  

In the BMW line-up, brown is reserved for larger, touring models and is altogether absent in the "M" line racing performance brand. Ray said this could be attributed to the idea that those who buy brown, value luxury over aggressive, sporty performance.

This could also be true at Mercedes Benz. Brown turns up as an AMG custom color, one to be special-ordered. It is not a color typically shown as a demo. At Infinity, their largest SUV, the QX is shown only in brown-wannabe, Dark Currant. Similarly, Audi has corralled its cocoa offerings in one series. Teak Brown and its heavy metal sibling – Teak Brown Metallic, seem to account for the label's brown option, colors only offered on the Q5 and Q7.

"Exotic colors [are] for exotic cars," according to Leslie Kendall, curator at Los Angeles-based, Petersen Automotive Museum. Antique cars hold their design integrity in their original colors, enhancing a car's design personality, according to Kendall. This is most important when color is part of a car's I.D. This is also when color can dramatically affect the value of a vehicle and impact the authenticity of a restoration.   

Petersen also described how auto coating palettes can and have taken cues from most anywhere, including trends and movements in culture and art. Petersen pointed to eras of industrialism and modernism, as well as artistic movements like art deco which served as a catalyst in the 1930s for car design and their complimentery colors which, in the instance of shades of gold and brown, were pulled directly from military palettes, drawn from tones associated with flight, and metropolitan factories and buildings to, later, their antithetical muse, nature.

The Petersen collection is widely and most popularly known for its antique car collection as well as historically and anatomically correct historic restorations. When talking about restored cars, Kendall said, color authenticity is key, and color correctness is an element worth tending to and maintaining when addressing the artistry of any automobile.

Car collecting enthusiasts pay big money and lots of attention to such details.

Renown for their eccentric extravagance, Concours d'Elegance autos and their owners go all out, presenting their cars -- and themselves -- in full regalia, hoping to grab the attention and win admiring glances and the approval of judges who rate restored cars for their authenticity, Kendall said.

In such an environment, tones of milky chocolate and darkest, bitter mocha color are synonymous with sophistication, according to Kendall who pointed to the museum's founder and namesake as an example.

Mr. Petersen himself, Leslie recalled, counted a 20-story brown skyscraper, an opulent personal airport terminal and private jets replete with chocolate accents and brown dĂ©cor, and even a chestnut brown Bentley, among his prized possessions. Kendall said, "brown is a color of maturity." It's clear, in these applications, brown is simply the color of sweet indulgence.

© 2013 Valerie Williams-Sanchez. All rights reserved.