In between all the hustle and bustle of the concept car and new vehicle introductions at the Detroit Auto Show, we found ourselves returning to the General Motors display for second, third and fourth looks.
Sure, there were a lot of interesting cars to be seen, but something struck us as being a little… strange.
Then it hit us: Most of the luxury vehicles, trucks and sports cars at the show seemed to blend into the background. In fact, the more we looked the more we uncovered. Nearly anything that could be accused of being a gas guzzler (whether true or not — remember that the Chevy Corvette gets fuel economy close to 30 on the highway) faded into the background:
A new Cadillac concept appeared in a dusty metallic color.
The Cadillac CTS-V production coupe debuted in a menacing shade of gray.
And, probably the most telling of all, a long a row of Corvettes and Camaros appeared in various shades of dusk.
Everything big, bad or “old GM” blended into the background. Up front, bright and loud, was the “new GM.” If it was small and had the promise of fuel efficiency, it was painted in look-at-me colors. The small Chevy Aveo RS appeared in an electric blue color while the Chevy Spark city car burned like a bright green neon sign.
It got us wondering: would GM purposely turn down the colors on some of its products so that it could turn it up on others, effectively focusing the attention on its small cars?
We asked a few of our contacts at GM.
“Well, you do remember all the politicians we had walking the show floor during the media days, don’t you?” said one GM employee who works in a marketing arm of the company. “Don’t kid yourself: that perception is very important.”
Of course: U.S Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a range of other local politicians were present on Monday of the auto show. They walked the floor, shook hands and took pictures next to vehicles from the various manufacturers.
GM’s Erin Crossley, senior manager of color and trim for North America, says the strategy behind the different colors was brand specific.
“Our main strategy was focused around brand and having a unique color identity,” Crossley said. “The small car market is our opportunity to have more expression and color; the smaller body forms accept more color — moreso than a larger vehicle.”
When we called Jim Bulin, a Detroit area consultant to car companies for design and demographic analysis, he said it could be less strategic for the show and more indicative of how management thinks about their product lineup.
“There is very much a view from senior management at a lot of car companies that the more serious cars deserve the more serious colors,” said Bulin. “At Ford, for example, colors on show cars were decisions that we made right at the very top.
“Paradoxically, a lot of those loud, gumball colors are what some executives think young people want,” said Bulin. “But in reality when you talk to people 18-34, their color choices rarely, if ever, match these launch colors you see at the auto show for the small cars.”
With Bulin’s perspective being different from our own and Crossley assuring us that the colors were strategic but that no political Machiavellian moves were at play, we went back down to the show during public days for a second look. Maybe GM was playing a cool game of poker, or maybe it was just a coincidence.
As it turns out, GM’s shrewd moves didn’t end on the media days.
In fact, once the media days were over, the colors started to come back out. The day after the media left, the company unveiled a new, bright green Camaro (a special edition called “Synergy Green”). A flock of red SUVs showed up in the corner. A GM spokesperson said that 18 new vehicles were brought out for the public days that weren’t there for media days.
When we went to the show during the public days, we found a decidedly different GM display. As it turns out, the public was able to see GM cars and trucks in all their tangerine-flake glory, while the media had an edited view.
Of course, maybe GM is just following a trend. When DuPont released their most popular colors for 2009 a few weeks back, the top four colors were: white, black, silver and gray. Those four shades alone made up over two thirds of the entire U.S. market.