Why car guys should care about the Pantone Color of the Year

Published December 10, 2020, 1:01 PM

by Inigo Roces

Just this week, Pantone announced the colors of the year, being Ultimate Gray and Illuminating (yellow). It may seem like a trivial bit of information, perhaps even odd that some institute should dictate the year’s colors to be used.

Yet this seemingly innocuous announcement has wide-reaching effects, not only for the fashion world, but nearly every consumer product you can think of. Including cars.

How does it affect the cars we buy?

Pantone Colors of the Year from 2000-2020.

Just like any consumer product, a vehicle’s design is influenced by a lot of other factors, especially fashion, global consumer trends, and advances in technology.

It may not be immediate, nor take hold the same year it’s announced, but its effects are certainly felt even years after. Perhaps the most obvious influence is the car’s body color.

The most perfect example is the color, cerulean blue. This rather dull greyish blue shade seems like an odd choice, yet take a quick look around and you may still see its influence today.

Cerulean Blue

Cerulean was declared Pantone’s color of the year in 2000. The most tuned-in to the fashion world were likely quick to employ the color in their collections. Yet the general public didn’t feel the effects of the color until a good 5-8 years after.

How it trickled down is best exemplified by its mention in the Hollywood film, “The Devil Wears Prada.” The movie chronicles the challenges of a young girl working in one of fashion’s most influential magazines. Though she yearns to pursue a journalistic career, the lead, Andy, finds herself in the employ of one of New York’s top fashion magazines, and directly under the command of its fearsome editor, Miranda Priestly. Not into fashion and keen to simply get the job done and move on to the next step in her career, she chuckles when an assistant struggles to choose between two blue accessories for a fashion shoot. Her boss hears this and she’s quickly given a lecture on how a trivial detail like the color can make or break it.

“What you don’t know is that that sweater is not just blue, it’s not turquoise. It’s not lapis. It’s actually cerulean,” says Miranda Priestly. “And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent… wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it’s sort of comical how you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you’re wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.”

2008 Honda Jazz in Cerulean Blue

So how does this connect to cars? It took a few more years, but it eventually found its way into vehicles. The Devil Wears Prada, with this iconic monologue, came out in 2006. Just a few short years after, cars were beginning to be offered in that very same color. In 2008, Honda debuted the second generation of one of its most iconic hatchbacks, the Jazz, in Cerulean Blue. Yes, that’s the same shade, now imbued with metallic flecks and likely matching a few choice fashion accessories of the women it was marketed at.

Current influences

Suzuki V-Strom 1050 XT

Not quite convinced? How about a product geared more toward undoubtedly masculine consumers, the Suzuki V-Strom 1050 XT, an adventure motorcycle for rugged riders. Suzuki offers it in a very bright orange which was, surprise, surprise, Tangerine Tango, Pantone’s color for 2012.

Toyota Wigo TRD S

More recently, Toyota launched the new Wigo, now offered in a very sporty yellow. You only get this color when you buy the top-of-the-line TRD edition. Where have you seen that color before? It’s Mimosa, Pantone’s 2009 color of the year.

Maxus G50 MPV

Even new, or should I say revived brands, would not dare venture far from Pantone’s recommendation. Chinese-built British brand, Maxus, offers their latest MPV in a very striking violet hue. It’s the same Ultraviolet Pantone recommended in 2018.

Nissan Terra

Most impressive of all, Pantone can even turn around perceptions of certain colors. Remember when no one would be caught dead with a brown car, the shade often compared to something smelly? These days, it’s quite in vogue. You can get a Nissan Terra in Earth Brown, inspired of course, by Pantone’s 2015 Color of the Year, Marsala.

2000 Pontiac Aztek

There’s no doubt Pantone definitely influences the car industry, but does the car world – in some small way – influence Pantone? I’m willing to bet it does too. Just take a look at the colors of the 2000 Pontiac Aztek.

So the next time Pantone announces its color of the year, don’t simply brush it aside. Keep a sharp eye for the shade. It may be on your next car.