A little over two years ago when the design team at Maruti Suzuki India Ltd sifted through global colour forecasts to zero in on a colour palette for the Vitara Brezza, they wanted to communicate several things: that the car was bold, aggressive and sporty. Also that the brand was premium and aspirational.

Known for its reliable and affordable cars, Maruti Suzuki wanted to drive aspiration among the youth. The car was launched this year, in six colour options—Blazing Red, Cerulean Blue, Fiery Yellow, Granite Gray, Pearl Arctic White and Premium Silver. Consumers could also customize their cars with a dual-tone option, as its floating roof lends itself well to the concept. Around 40% of the current bookings are for the dual-tone.

“At auto shows, you would see paints and expensive finishes such as matt, liquid metal and neon—metallic-, mica- and pearl-based in nature—on top-end luxury car brands. By offering these paint finishes, we are trying to bring in a premium appeal in brands like Ciaz and Brezza," said Saurabh Singh, deputy general manager of Design Studio at Maruti Suzuki. Colour plays an important role in establishing a brand, he added.

This was also true of the Ciaz, Maruti Suzuki’s mid-sized sedan. It offered European styling, rich interiors and a host of upmarket features. Colour, a key factor, had to denote luxury, so the design team chose a higher metallic palette and gloss finish. The company also picked brown, an unusual colour for a car. “Our research showed that brown will be a trend in India soon. To make it premium, we added a golden sparkle to the metallic brown and today it is one of the most preferred colours," said C.V. Raman, executive director (engineering) at Maruti Suzuki. The Ciaz Pearlatic Brown has reportedly been a runaway success.

“As aesthetics increasingly drive consumer purchases, colour is the easiest component to communicate a change. It is complicated, but emotive," said Latika Khosla, design director at Freedom Tree Design, an international trend and colour consultancy with studios in Mumbai.

Colour choices are made during the product design phase, two or three years prior to the launch—based on trends at international motor shows, global colour forecasts fashion and interiors, new products and technologies; economic and sociological influences, among other things. The data is crunched to yield a new colour palette, with some conservative options in white, silver, black and grey. The hypothesis is then tested at consumer clinics, both at the sketches phase and the actual model phase.

A refreshed colour palette helps brands cater to evolving consumer tastes. LG Electronics India Pvt. Ltd introduces two or three new colour variants every two years. Shrewdly chosen, a colour can bump a product into a premium category, such as LG’s range of hazel brown-coloured refrigerators with gold motifs. “We found that Indian consumers loved the colour as it went well with their interiors," said Charu Khilnani, LG India’s design manager. “At the higher end, we have silver-steel finishes, which make the product look very chic," she adds.

It makes good business sense. Research from the Color Marketing Group, an international association of designers which forecasts colour trends for companies, shows colour can make for up to 85% of the reason people choose to buy a product.

Jane E. Harrington, manager (colour styling) for automotive OEM (original equipment manufacturer) coatings at PPG Industries Ohio Inc., a leading global coatings firm, agrees. “Our research indicates that global car manufacturers have good reason to give their brands and models a unique appearance using colour and effects," said in a statement. “OEMs need to consider everyone from technology-focused millennials to family-focused baby boomers, monitoring sales data and style trends to predict colours and effects two or three years in advance."