Pastel-Colored Cars Could Return From the Pale

America's nostalgia for the 1950s isn't limited to Elvis music and poodle skirts with their multitude of petticoats. Our taste in colors, like clothing styles, runs in cycles, and automotive fashion mavens say the wild pastels of the Eisenhower era will again become popular during the 1990s.

``The automobile is an extension of what people are, or what they would like to be,'' says Robert F. Daily, Du Pont Automotive's resident color ``czar.'' And for many, color makes the final statement.

Many factors go into the choice of color, however. Where people live has an influence. Lighter, cooler colors tend to be more popular in the Sunbelt. California buyers typically go for more faddish tints.

``Women tend to have a higher degree of sensitivity to color,'' Mr. Daily notes. ``And we do know that women tend to be the ones likely to choose the color of the new car ... 70 percent to 80 percent of the time.''

And what they choose most often are the ``patriotic'' colors, white followed by red and blue.

What's popular with one type of vehicle may seem hideous on another. Greens are a small car taboo. Yellows aren't very popular with luxury buyers.

Reds, especially rich metallic variations, are the favorites for sports and sporty cars. Grey metallics are favored by import and domestic luxury car buyers. Blue is the top choice for light trucks.

But what's hot this year may be out the next, according to Daily. Just as tastes change in clothing, so ``color over the years is cyclical although not predictable. A lot of it is driven by what we see in the world of high fashion, especially what's coming out of Europe, New York, and to some degree, California.''

Keeping up with those fashion trends is a major part of Daily's job, as he helps develop the 200 to 300 colors that Du Pont alone will offer carmakers each year. No more than 20 percent of those new hues will actually go into production.

Some experts also see a link between automotive colors and the state of the nation's economy. In down years, or when the nation is at war, dark grays typically win out over bright reds.

Though black has been increasingly popular in recent years, Daily sees the brighter tones of the 1950s - the hot pinks, pastel corals, aquas and bright purples - making a comeback during the early 1990s.

Many of the futuristic concept cars on display at auto shows around the country this year are painted in rich, metallic light greens. Some designers suggest variations of green could be a hit during the early to mid-1990s.

Even the old standbys, red, white, and blue, are becoming brighter and more chromatic, a reflection of new paint finishing technologies.

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