Henry Ford didn’t think there was much to the colour of a car. But for today’s manufacturers, a car is much more than a utilitarian machine. It is a mirror of people’s personalities and aspirations, and it provides an opportunity to lighten the visual monotony. Just visit the Maruti Zen website, which uses an interactive software to help you decide your colour. If you answer the online questionnaire saying that you like to sip Scotch at a party and play snooker, chances are the computer will suggest Midnight Black, but if you belong to the lot that sips soft drinks at a party and plays gulli-danda, you may be offered the relaxed Virgin Blue.
“The appetite for different shades has increased. Everyone wants to look trendy, fashionable and avoid being left out,” says Ankush Arora, vice-president, marketing, sales and aftersales, General Motors India. In April, the company launched its Chevrolet Spark in six colours such as Mint Green, Fiery Red and Icy Blue.
Maruti Swift, which is already available in Solid Bright Red, Metallic Iridium Gold and Metallic Ozone Blue, has added Metallic Sunlight Copper to its range. “Our shades are aimed at young, dynamic, trendy customers who don’t mind their cars standing out from the rest,” says Amey Mujumdar, brand manager, Swift, at Maruti Udyog Ltd.
If you have no qualms about driving down the highway in a yellow Mercedes or candy pink Ambassador, the place to start is your local garage. It is in these unsuspecting spaces that the most daring experiments with colour take place. Gagan Arora, owner of Safdarjung Motors near Safdarjung tomb, New Delhi, has coated humble Ambassadors in flamboyant robes of polo green and aubergine purple. “You get us a shade, and we will replicate the colour on your car,” he says.
A new technology which could revolutionize the way cars look is vehicle-wraps. The technique involves wrapping the vehicle in vinyl sheets which fit snugly to provide an even coat.
Vimal Ambani of Tower Overseas Ltd, which distributes the technology from the Belgian brand Multifix, says that soon it will be possible to reproduce the sunflowers your kids painted on your vehicle. “These wraps can be a value proposition when you decide to sell your car since it is as costly as, or cheaper than, repainting the car,” says Ambani.
Nimish Patel, a dealer for General Motors in Mumbai, coated his Opel Astra with the blue of a Benetton Formula One car. “I wanted my car to be unlike cars you see on the street. I love that my car can be pinpointed in a crowd. But my family doesn’t.”
For Sreeya Sen, it was a more unified decision. Sen and husband Vikram D’Souza, who together own a furniture line in Mumbai, are known to be fun-loving and outgoing. They say they wanted a shade on their Maruti Swift which would represent that. Ideally, the couple would have picked canary yellow, but since it was not available from the manufacturer, they chose Mint Green. “I think it is a happy and unusual colour,” says Sen.
Gurtaj Kahlon, who runs a Mumbai-based chemical distribution company, comes up against varied reactions. “Whenever I tell people that I own a yellow Mercedes, they have a strange look in their eyes, but when they see it, they think it looks great,” he says. Kahlon always had a fancy for the unlikely, at least as far as cars are concerned. “Fifteen years ago, I saw a two-page ad in Newsweek with an electric green Porsche 911. I have always wanted to own something like that,” he says.
Cars with colourful personalities are also a hit with establishments such as Mumbai’s The Orchid hotel. Their fleet of eight lilac Toyota Corollas mimics the colour of an orchid and the cars are so distinct that it “helps us catch the attention of our customers during airport pick-ups”, says Renu Menghrajani, front office manager.
Exciting colours are also a big hit with children. “I thought when I buy a car, my kids should enjoy it as much as I do,” says Debu Mishra, a management consultant in Mumbai, who recently switched from a yellow Mitsubishi Lancer to a red Pajero. The vehicle provides a break from the vast swathes of whites, greys and blacks. “Imagine a world where everyone bought the same-coloured cars. There would be no visual relief for the eyes,” he says.
Mishra’s thoughts on the subject are a leap from the old days, when any deviation from standard colours was heavily overruled. It was widely believed that a swanky new colour on your car would mean higher car insurance premium. Or even that the resale value of a car would plunge if you coated the existing white in a metallic red.
Since the thinking has changed on colours, what next? Polka dots, stripes or floral prints, perhaps....