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New car colors shifting to hues of blues, grays

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Silvers and grays are still popular colors for upscale cars such as the 2004 Lexus RX 400h hybrid.

Silvers and grays are still popular colors for upscale cars such as the 2004 Lexus RX 400h hybrid.

Paul Sancya, Associated Press

DETROIT — "Bring up my car, the blue one over there," you might tell the valet.

And the color-savvy valet might ask, "Do you mean the Mystic blue or the Indigo Ink blue? Merlot blue or the Silver Lake blue? Blue Graphite Pearl or the Deep Blue Pearl?"

No longer do we have mere colors in automotive America. We have shades of color, seemingly one for nearly every one of the 1,400 models of cars and trucks on sale.

Even though car color experts at DuPont Automotive say silver and white remain the most popular colors, a stroll through the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit revealed blue — in all its various hues — is popping back on the automotive palette.

"There is a shift that is going on," said Ed Wellburn, General Motors Corp. design director. "Blues are coming in strong. It's a different blue from the past. There's more red in it."

That's not to say blue sport-utes soon will replace all the silver and gray trucks on the road.

The 2003 DuPont Automotive Color Popularity Report showed gray recently has captivated America.

Nearly 12 percent of the 16.6 million new cars and trucks sold in 2003 were painted medium gray to dark gray, up 4.5 percentage points in a year. That means 800,000 more gray autos were sold last year than the year before.

Meanwhile, the popularity of silver autos slipped to 20.2 percent from 22.8 percent. No other shade in the DuPont report made as dramatic a gain as gray.

But styles abroad can influence fashions here. In a Detroit auto show that is a sea of gray and silver metal, model year 2004 and 2005 cars shaded in blue stood out.

After a long grayish era in cars, Europeans warmed to blue, Wellburn said.

Neutral tones are more popular in hard times partly because "it's easier for a person to resell if it's not faddish or controversial," Wellburn said.

Plus, says Frank Reynolds, assistant sales manager at Honda West in Indianapolis, "silver hides the dirt. I think that's why it's popular."

Practicality aside, auto designers are turning to warmer shades of blue and red to highlight cars with the more expressive curves and angles now coming off drawing boards, noted Robert Dailey, DuPont Automotive color marketing manager.

For the Detroit show, Volkswagen AG brought a New Beetle painted a shade of light blue — dubbed Aquarius Blue — that might have been concocted by mixing a spoonful of electric blue with a half-gallon of buttermilk.

Designers of upscale cars have long used silver and gray as the colors of choice for expensive sedans.

Unwilling to let go of silver entirely, Bentley rolled out a $110,000 Continental coupe that had splashed blue in the silver.

"Silver and pewter tend to stand out. It's a more classic look," said Eric Stoltz, new-car sales manager at Mahoney Chevrolet in Indianapolis.

In the mid- to late 1990s, green was common, and remains a Top 10 choice for sport-utes. "Every time you turned around in 1997, you saw a green car. But it's a neutral color most people want now," Stoltz said.