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It's not black and white

Date: 19 September 2017   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

Jack Carfrae asks the industry's remarketing experts which colours suit what vehicles, and how businesses can ensure the defleet price is right for their choices

To the car industry's credit, you're now hard pushed to find a truly lurid colour. Mimosa Yellows, Damask Reds and Rhine Golds went down with the British Leyland ship, and manufacturers have since refined paint schemes much for the better.  

That said, it's still possible to spec a vehicle in the wrong colour, especially when economics are at stake. There remains a skill in knowing the palettes that will guarantee good money and a speedy sale at defleet time, and in the case of your traditional company car, it's the sober shades that clinch it.   

"With greater numbers of upper-medium and executive models coming from fleet and lease sources, we see larger volumes of metallic blues, greys and silvers," says Stuart Pearson, BCA's managing director for UK remarketing.

"These subtle colours work well on bigger saloons, estates and coupes, with an understated elegance that appeals to used buyers and makes an attractive package when it's combined with a good specification. Flat, dull, non-metallic paint schemes should be avoided where possible. Bolder and brighter colour schemes work best on smaller hatchbacks and city cars."

"It's silver and silver-based colours - it's greys it's, blacks - that is as safe as you are ever going to get," says Alex Wright, managing director of Shoreham Vehicle Auctions, "yeah, they're a bit boring, but if you've got an Audi A6 Avant in a metallic grey, that's going to sell; you can't go wrong."

Flat red, known for its oxidisation, is still a turn off in a lot of cases. It definitely doesn't work on large, conservative vehicles, such as MPVs, which can "look like the fire chief's car" according to James Dower, Cap HPI's senior Black Book editor, "but if it's sitting on a sports car, red does very well." He also points out that flat colours are not always the paintwork paupers they're perceived to be, as certain manufacturers now charge extra for particular non-metallic shades, as the colours are now more durable, deeper and desirable. 

"There's a Ford main agent in south London who has openly said to me that he can't sell burnt orange."

Anything that's deemed fashionable is generally best avoided. The popularity of shades such as bronze, brown and burnt orange in recent years hasn't had quite the endurance many manufacturers had hoped, and while you might think they look the business, they they're polarising to used buyers.   

"There's a Ford main agent in South London, who has openly said to me that he can't sell burnt orange," says Wright, "which chucks the argument of 'what do fleet companies need to buy?' because it's regional, and to actually come up with a list of what the popular colours are, is not giving a true depth to the complexity of it."

White is a different animal. It's been back in fashion for a while, but its aesthetic success is dependant upon the model and trim. "You could have a white car, for example, with a bog standard exterior, bog standard wheels, and that will still struggle a little," says Dower, "if you were to have the bigger wheels, a styling kit, those are the ones that are really ringing the bell at the moment. But what we have definitely seen is that black has made a big comeback; I think the recent stats are that black achieved 98% of Cap in the luxury executive sector, but only 88% in city car sector."

"If you have a large vehicle in white, it looks too much like a van and buyers avoid them, adds Wright, "white in small and medium, we find works; white in sports cars works, because it's different. Also, white needs to have the trimmings that set it off - the black alloys, the black wing mirrors etc. It is amazing how the small trim of a Ford ST, or something like that, can really set off a white car. It is one of those colours that can work on one car but not another and work on the same car but a different spec. Eight or nine years ago, it was a trend colour that everyone expected to last a year or two and hasn't; it's still there."

You might think white the natural shade for LCVs, but, these days, that's actually untrue. Vans sporting bright, metallic and even garish paintwork make really strong money at auction, because they have a broad appeal to used buyers.

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"We have a van sale at least once a week, sometimes twice, and if everything in there's white, it doesn't distinguish itself," says Graham Howe, commercial director at CD Autions.

"We've got panel vans coming in from a particular rental company and they generally buy only metallic colours, because they stand out and they're saleable. There's been a big increase in the UK market around conversion-type vehicles, because of the whole lifestyle factor, so there are lots more being bought and converted into camper van type vehicles, and we know if we get non-white vehicles in that marketplace, we get very strong money for them."

In fact, base commercials in the likes of plain white can be hard to shift, as Pearson explains: "The business sector provides a volume of utilitarian colours into the used market, often seen on 4x4 double cabs and other off-road vehicles. These can work well providing the vehicle also sports a good selection of rugged accessories, but a base specification model in a flat colour can be a hard sell. As most 4x4 double cabs have a second life as the family car, a good metallic retail colour is the best option."

"Renault Trafic vans in lime green: we find that they'll make £1,000 over bulk," adds Wright, "there are so many vehicles out there that are bland white, buyers just want stand-out colour  and, in the van world - different market, here - you can sell colours if they're a year old or two years old."

Wright says you have to be quick to cash-in on colourful LCVs, though: "As soon as you drop to five or six years old, everyone wants to go back to white, and that's because of the repair cost. Every van at five or six years old has dents in it but you can still have a nice, clean one in a year/two-year-old vehicle with a colour, and that will always sell."

As usual, the subjective and economical reasons for a particular choice of colour are at loggerheads, but as a fleet operator who needs to know which shades suit which vehicles, allow employees the freedom of their choice lists and tee up some decent residual values, it isn't an easy line to tread.

The advice is as follows: "If you were to look at an ST-Line Fiesta, for example, versus a standard Fiesta, the percentage differences are significant," says Cap HPI's Dower, who argues that mating the right colour with the right trim is where you make your money back: "it's almost to the point where, as a fleet company, you may be better advised to look at offering the appearance options as a no-cost option to the end user, knowing that when you've de-fleeted it, you are likely to sell your car much quicker, and for more money."

"Look at what colours manufacturers are using in their advertising," adds CD's Graham Howes, "they know the colours that best suit the lines of their vehicles, and they're promoting them on that basis, so maybe limit them to relatively stock, standard stuff."

"My advice to all fleet managers is diversity - not to buy a whole fleet in one colour," adds Shoreham's Wright, "when you get whole fleets in one colour, you get an identity to a vehicle and the challenges that go with it."

"If anything, I would stop multiples of one colour and make sure you get evenness, but I think the manufacturers are so responsive to colours of new vehicles, and how they work, that it directly relates to a two to three-year-old one. They will put far more research and time into their colours than any fleet manager ever has the time to do."