Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Micro Level Trends – Social Economic Indicators – Skirt Lengths and Car Colours...Fact, Fiction or Half Truth Hyperbole. (Part 2)

Previously it was demonstrated that the seemingly age-old mantra about the rising hemlines of shorter skirts being reflective of rising tide in economic fortunes, was essentially a misnomer.

This specific hyperbole emerged in the mid 1960s and saturated the popular opinions of various commercial sectors, but in fact runs counter to much of the 20th century's corollary of fashion and finance.

Similarly to Part 1, this Part 2 likewise reviews (but to greater depth) whether the similarly engrained perception and rhetoric that ”rising economic fortunes observed via the colours of cars” has much, partial or no fundamental foundation.

The convention obviously has it that economic upturns are visibly and tangibly demonstrated by the purchase of vehicles with brighter, happier, “optimistic” colours.

Colour in Context -

Colour in nature is created by the visually recognised material body refraction of a very specific wavelength from within the multi-coloured 'white light' spectrum. Very simplistically, an object which scatters all wavelengths appears white, whilst that which absorbs all wavelengths appears black.

The discovery of fire-light and mankind's later invention of gas and electric lighting types, whilst positive, obviously adulterates the natural daylight basis of colouration.

Human use of colouration (and pattern) to depict tribal differentiation and social order is prevalent through social history and across all continents The primary ability to differentiate through colour originally dependent upon the natural availability of multi-coloured pigments and substances from flora, fauna and minerals.

As is typical with supply and demand dynamics, rare or new colours, either from distant natural sources or from new industrial methods have been highly prized. Such as with Renaissance era artists and their Church patrons regards the vibrant blue pigment of lapis lazuli of ground-down lazurite. Likewise, in the case of hierarchical display through vestments, Royal and Church adoption of purple was prevalent until its 'industrial invention', mass manufacture by German chemists in the 1880s, paving the way to popular mass application.

The extrapolation of oil based paints from origins upon the artists pallet into the commercially driven realms of domestic interiors and exteriors – applied for distinct identity and as a protective coating over structural and ornamental woods – meant that oil paints were inevitably similarly applied to (largely wooden) horse drawn vehicles. This so from fine carriages to inter-regional coaches to functional wagons, so as to provide for the instincts of either social differentiation via personal livery (notionally inspired by household heraldic colours and much imitated), or specific service identification such as postal coaches or brewery drays, displaying corporate colours.

The demand for difference then created a fervency in industry to create an ever wider spectrum of both painted colour applications and likewise dyed applications for textiles and such (clothing, linen, carpeting, flock wallpaper etc).

As such the 20th century began with a major wave of 'colour consumerism', with colours themselves having far greater psychological impact in such advanced economies given their inferred value laden social overtones – far more so than today. As with the social language of presented flowers, those associations no doubt subtly promoted to popularise 'colour consumption' itself.

20th century consumerism gained enormously from a seemingly infinite palette of colours made available, the plethora most concisely displayed by the extended “colour wheel”.

Yet it has been social fashions ostensibly created by the collaboration of media and industry which have paved the way for colour preference, consumers swayed into typically cyclical periods of colour (and pattern) choice; necessarily far quicker in seasonal clothing fashions, and slower regards 'new era' interior designs.

The extrapolation of association-based consumer psychology – from the 1920s onward - means that colours themselves have become promoted through the use of exotic shade-names. Such marketing methodology finessed by the auto-sector itself in the 1950s, with the variously emotive names of car models and variants given yet further emotive resonance from the names of their painted overlays.

Today colour and 'lifestyle' marketing have become so entwined that the once various shades of basic beige have become 'designer-labelled' (ie Kelly Hoppen).

The Evolution of Car Colours -

The very first cars (horseless carriages) were the low-volume manufactured off-spring of proven prototypes. With a purely a functional remit little, if any, colour aesthetic was applied. Thus, the very earliest productionised cars were inevitably black given functional remit, using hard, stove-type paints for toughness and ability to visually hide the mud and dirt from unsealed roads.

Improved capability and durability of the basic vehicles thereafter prompted further demands from prospective customers, inevitably wealthy early adopters who sought a 'carry-over' of horse-drawn carriage equipment. These included weather protective hood or fully enclosed body, external forward lighting (used not for forward vision but to warn oncoming road users to stand clear), and application personal livery (colour) decoration of the individual or household. This applied to the main body, as the 'under-carriage' and typically fenders necessarily remained black.

Such 'brass-age' (Victorian and Edwardian era) vehicles utilised the range of standard lead based paints, often applied by the increasing array of coach-work firms (as the early auto-sector split into chassis and body producers) with the painted body often incorporating not only customer requested livery but also specific detailed paint-scheme 'flourishes' (“coach-lines”) which were a form of decorative signature script.

[NB This artform was also playfully resurrected during the Californian hotrod era, is used by the SoCal lowrider groups and more formally is often seen on contemporary Rolls-Royce vehicles as a marque signature].

Whatever the livery or associated coach-lines, even before WW1 a vast array of colours had been created in German, British, French and American paint laboratories.

Thus, the primary colours of green, yellow and red were deployed, and mixed to provide secondary colours of blue, orange and purple, with white and black also added as whole colours in their own right and as shade determinants for lighter and darker shades of primary and secondary colours. Tertiary colours such as brown created by further cross-mixing. In the cases of natural colours such as brown, as feasible paint creators might re-utilise the old hand-crafted natural pigmentation methods of ground minerals mixed with oils, though upon industrial scale.

This then provided true customisation possibilities of the wealthy, toward either strict or loose adherence to family colours; whether truly dynastic or self-styled by aspirant nouveau riche.

However, much of the wealth was held by incoming parvenus who often sought approval from those already holding position, and so decorated their vehicles in 'tasteful' darker shades (green, red, blue) to avoid social faux pas. Ironically reactionary portions of the upper echelon (often the true old guard itself) instead intentionally chose bright, even garish colours, so as to retain social differentiation from their 'underlings'.

As such yellow was a favoured colour (contrasted with black), since as with the intentional adoption of white collars and clothing centuries earlier, it must be kept clean, thus inferring a retinue of household staff and so wealth. (see the film 'Gosford Park'). (Other examples of such vehicles re-contextualised appear in 'Goldfinger' per reflective plutocracy and 'The Darling Buds of May' as per notionally democratic yet traditionalist social re-orientation].

However, by the end of the 'brass age' ( ie post 1918) a broader taste for brightness and specifically yellow had been promoted, especially within the more liberal, far less war ravaged USA, a taste which spread to the 'young bright things' of London, Paris and Berlin.

Around this time progress in paint chemistry was made with the introduction of fine 'paint fillers'. So giving rise to new alternative offerings, such as “chromium yellow” - a deeper lustre and body than available yellow to date. Though far too brash for most, it was much sought and became almost symbolic of the young, monied, hedonistic set. (Aldus Huxley satirical 1921 book 'Crome Yellow' laments the trend. Its cover-page picture uses a cropped version of Constable's 'The Haywain', ousting field and cart to highlight the implicit loss of venerable countryside values to urban “machine age” ways).

Another major effect on each nation's consumer preferences was the social impact of international automotive competition; specifically adoption of individual national colours: British (Racing) Green, French Blue, German White and Italian Red. Though originating at the turn of the century, the sport was not truly in the public eye until the 1920s, an economically expansionary period when self-identity could be boosted through vehicle purchase with nationalistic overtones.

[NB Though it is now an accepted truism that Germany swapped to 'silver' to negate the weight if white paint, so leaving bare the metal shell, it is as likely the change was made to demonstrate the prevailing German ideology of technical, and so national, prowess].

However, as with earlier domestic and industrial paints, firms seeking to serve the burgeoning mass market in cars seemingly sought to limit the wide range of colours available to the vehicle industry; so as to financially gain from the production of single colour batches in major volumes, thereby gaining massive economies of scale.

This together with the visually conservative tastes of late 19th century meant that in actuality only a relatively small range of colours was to be popularised for mass market adoption.

For the most part these included the much darker, less frivolous, shades of green, blue and red, though this restriction was more prevalent in the UK than historically more liberal continental Europe.
Over the following years, this restricted colour palette remained especially on cheaper small and practical cars. And similarly for practicality and cost savings, the “chassis-black” treatment remained on chassis, fenders, running boards (if fitted) and often “coal-scuttle” engine cover.

[NB so named because of its overall shape widening from engine to cabin].

As body-styles proliferated so models from the 'teens and twenties tended to have “split personalities”, especially so in the USA, regards their colouration. Much depending upon length of the wheelbase. Shorter wheelbase 2 doors with folding roofs (runabouts and sportsters) tended to mid and maybe even light colours, whilst longer wheelbase 4 doors with folding roofs (tourers) tended to mid colours, and longer wheelbase 4 doors with enclosed bodies (sedans and limousines) tended darker colour shades.

Colour offerings and choices then reflecting the perceived formality of the vehicle, even when the base vehicle was technically very similar.
Furthermore, two and four door bodied cars were often painted in 2-tone, with a black upper body to visually balance the black lower chassis items and add an essence of visually similar sportiness as seen by the black hoods of sportsters and tourers. Unsurprisingly to add personalisation, the relatively smaller number of performance orientated SWB open-top back Sportster and 'Boat Tail' vehicles with often bespoke ordered 'racy' colour schemes, whilst the LWB 'Landaulette' with both solid and folding roofs often used a juxtaposition of colour and overlaid pattern to suggest coach-trimmed craftsmanship and sophistication..

[NB For decades some vintage car owners seek to renovate their cars what what they mistakenly view as period colours; bright yellow on black the most blatant. This was especially prevalent during the 1960s when such cars were momentarily en vogue in popular culture (wall print pictures etc). Yet whilst unquestionably such bright colours were available at the time given technical paint progress, such “ostentatious” colours were avoided by the majority of manufacturers and buyers, especially so on low cost populist models]

Though less so in N.America, WW2 had an obvious affect on private and commercial car ownership across the UK and Europe, with most materials (especially steel) and production facilities directed to vehicles and armaments; likewise with re-appropriation of petrol and diesel fuels. Vehicle production colours henceforth were largely the military 'drab' shades of grey, blue, green, brown and beige ordered by the forces

[NB Yesteryear stories maintained that many family cars were simply “put up on blocks” for the war's duration given the inability to obtain fuel and drive very far. Yet much of the upper-middle social bracket with directorial roles and responsibilities did indeed retain usage of their cars on an everyday basis, with larger fuel rations ensuring an ability to travel weekdays for work, and also (with stored petrol) at the weekend, for country jaunts etc.

So whilst some old black and white film footage, and critically period film and TV productions, would have it that UK mobility was reliant upon black Ford Prefects with white painted fenders edges (so as to be seen at night by another vehicle's own semi-masked headlamps), the modern image of the war-time being devoid of car colours is a complete misnomer].

Wartime privation meant that immediately post-war, people were ready to resume normality as quickly as possible. With new car production not yet enabled, the used car market boomed by the return of decommissioned family cars and the 'civvy street' influx of ex-military cars. As part of that period vehicle paint workshops likewise boomed as not so scrupulous car dealers bought-up previously garaged cars and ex-military cars, gave them scant attention to get them operable again as needed and gave them a “new lick of paint” in brighter colours to be sold onward “almost as new”.

Now effectively forgotten, it was this commercial process, undertaken in the back-streets of light-engineering workshops in the inner cities, that inadvertently influenced the new car colour palette trend for the 1950s.

After the heavy formal colours of the 1930s and the military drab of the 1940s, though for the most part such darker shades of green, blue and red were retained by car producers – themselves seeking to “get back” to normal - the 1950s saw a new proclivity toward the application of lighter tones of green, blue and red and cream. Whilst not 'bright' per se, and only a small percentage of overall new car production volumes, this was an obvious contrast to the traditional norm. This new-colour era was also assisted by the application of such shades on new sports-cars of the day (which actually retained its pre-war colour preferences), but with trickle-down into small mainstream saloons, which a new generation was purchasing, often for the first time.

Given that the USA had intrinsically been more experimental with car colours (utilising lighter shades earlier), and experienced a greater normality throughout WW2, when likewise the post-war economy re-grew, its consumer expectations were obviously higher than that of the UK or Europe.

To help create a new 1950s consumer era Detroit car-makers recognised that wholly new visual cues were needed to help fulfil middle-class consumer aspirations of upward social mobility; oft into new suburban neighbourhoods. So it was that a true styling paradox was created; a proliferation of bright-work mated to hard edged jet-age inspired body styling, itself was ironically coated with very light, soft shades of pastels. Shades from contemporary Parisienne haute couture and the art deco facades of Miami's South Beach, both inspired by 18th century water-colours, foreign and domestic wonderlands attainable via by jet-plane.

Throughout artistic history subtlety had been imbued by natural pastel shades, as opposed to the unnatural brightness (read metallica) of the machine-age (see Futurism). But the chrome-laden land-barges of Buick, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, De Soto, Mercury and Edsel sought ever new visual combinations to create a 'love of the new' and likewise believe that they were serving increasingly educated, informed and cultured American middle-class. This period, before an age of decals and mass-customisation, now seen as a golden age of conventional colour-led car consumerism. Although the American 1950s is recognised for its application of pastel shades (on much from cars to fridges to typewriters), as with earlier eras, it must be noted that the public predominantly bought cars in 'safe' traditional colours. The media blasted high lifestyle adverts were indeed appealing, but many felt happier with convention.

By the very end of this decade however two distinct body and colour trends were emerging from the paint laboratories and styling studios and of the leading corporations. Firstly, those much vaunted Parisienne pastels were being supplanted by a new wave of more technological “metal-flake” colours, which started to promote new, extended possibilities and personalities for standard dark and mid colour ranges. Secondly, a simpler, far more restrained 'Internationalist' (modernist) European design influence started to assert itself over the engrained domestic “Jetson's Futurism”.

[NB the path of paint technology is somewhat paradoxical to style trends, since the metallic paints created would have been far better philosophically suited to the 1950s 'tail fin' era, whilst pastels would have been better suited to the 'block surfaces' of the 1960s]

As is well recognised by now, even with the 1929 stock-market crash, the USA experienced a very different 20th century evolutionary pathway compared to far more war torn UK and war ravaged Europe. This marked difference very apparent by each region's respective standard of living by the mid 1950s, even if some European car marques owned by one American interests (GM) sought to mimic the ideology of 'in-built obsolescence' (in the Opel Olympia Rekord) for the remaining thin cohort of the semi-comfortably-off European middle classes. However, the 1960s would see a greater coupling of transatlantic economic ties and also critically automotive trends.

So by the early 1960s, even though the social cautiousness and traditionalist social-conformation of the UK's middle classes still meant that the majority of new car sales were in the 'classical' darker shades of green, blue and red, aswell as brown, off-white and lessening black, an increasing acceptance of lighter shades for these core colours had filtered through.

This very much helped by the the increasing prevalence of smaller 1950s cars (eg Austin A30) in mid and light tones, and by the indirect influence of American films and direct influence of Detroit' increasingly pan-regionally harmonised product planning, paint procurement and marketing activities. Such efforts perhaps best exemplified by the synergised efforts of Ford USA, Ford of Britain and Ford of Germany with products like the Anglia, Consul Capri, Mk1 and Mk2 Cortina, Mk 1 Escort and Mk1 Capri. All gaining American flavours, including mid and light shade colour options, and specifically by late decade the adoption of metallics (typically silver, gold and bronze) on the Mk4 Zephyr and top-trim level on Mk2 Cortina.

[NB the metallic silver initially used mid decade by premium makers such as Aston Martin and Mercedes-Benz 600 'Pullman', so giving mainstream market cars with such colour immediate cache].

The fact is however, that the far slower post WW2 economic rebound of Europe demonstrated itself into the 1960s; with much mobility still via scooter and motorcycle, this reality the very opposite of the received (export culture) wisdom about French fashionability and coffee-culture led Italian Modernism. As American families were effectively downsizing from over-bloated full-size into mid-size cars (eg Ford Falcon), and the British families were transcending up the ladder from small cars (eg Austin A30) into compacts (eg Austin 1100), so European families were at last gaining enclosed mobility from affordable utility and small cars (eg VW “Kafer” [Beetle] / Citroen 2CV / Renault 4 / FIAT 600 “Seicento” and new 500 “Nuovo Cinquecento”.).

Such cars had been intentionally designed prior to and after WW2 as low cost, affordable products for the masses, but given the necessary fact that mass mobility had been initially served by lower priced scooters and micro-vehicles (Vespa, Vespa Ape, BMW Isetta) based on low incomes, there was an unavoidable consequential time lag in the re-appearance of “proper cars”.

In order to gain as affordable price as possible yet also provide profitability for vehicle manufacturers, paint scheme options were initially very limited. The vast majority of early cars produced in light and mid grey, and light, mid and dark blue, with later appearances of green (dark and mid), red (dark) and white. Thereafter other colours such as beige. There origins, tendency for very limited feature improvement and typically far longer production life-spans meant that manufacturers relied upon paint colours far more so than typical cars. As seen with the earliest mass market cars, to initially reduce supply-side BOM (bill of material) procurement costs, and latterly to try and boost demand-side consumer appeal, as part of its innate character, given the product's lack of absolute specification, options and accessories.

Fortunately for VW, Citroen, Renault and FIAT, the emergence of the late 1960s and early 1970s recession, coupled with the 1973 oil crisis, meant that the lifespan of such fuel efficient and inexpensive cars – which were previously threatened as theoretically obsolete - was indeed extended.

Yet recognising that lightweight structures and simple mechanics were not enough in the growing competitive climate – especially so by imported Japanese cars that were “value for money”, reliable and feature-packed – European producers turned back to the realm of colour psychology, as previously practised by 1950s America.

This time however, rather than subtle hues of pastels, marketeers turned to the visual vibrancy of the late era counter-culture hippy movement; portions of which had actually adopted their cars as their own. That very audience and those on its influenced fringes were now older, proactive consumers, yet with a retained sense of counter-culture spirit, even if ironically communicated through purchase choice.

Thus for what was effectively the first time in the mainstream UK and European car market, an explosion of what could be described as “bright...happy...optimistic” colours were introduced: specifically vibrant orange, yellow, red, green and blue. The VW 'Jeans' Beetle perhaps the best example of the genre, itself including edition decals and dedicated denim seat coverings.

However, having seen the loud colour-schemes of US muscle cars in the late 1960s and early 1970s, closely allied the marketed use of 'colour psychology', and the resurgence of yesteryear utilitarian cars, the previously conservative Japanese by way of Toyota, Datsun and Honda, released their new product lines in equally audacious colours. Soon to follow were the larger and more expensive mainstream models, by Ford, GM and Chrysler-Rootes, with bright colour options made available.

The 1970s was then the defining era of “bright coloured cars”. Yet this decade was one of economic stagnation, not growth. And those bright colours effectively acted as a consumer band-aid, which along with media-led trends such as space-age futurism, novelty and disco music and the cultural hub of television, maintain a level of desperately required economic momentum, which under stagflation reality and union strikes across the west could have been far worse.

Whilst economic malaise persisted into the early 1980s, economic reforms (especially so in the UK and USA) soon created a contrasting zeitgeist. Though much media-hyped, the 'go-getter' attitude of entrepreneurship and collective capitalism became very apparent in the broad consumer popularity of aggressive shades of mid red; that colour impetus deriving from 'City Boy' 911 and 944 Porsches (the phenomena helping to spawn lowly 924) and fabled as deriving from the red braces of era. That trend transmuting to the Golf GTI (previously oft black), into other hot hatchbacks and throughout the majority of car types. This increased trend, together with a renewal of darker shades of blue, black and predominance of metallic silver (ie Ford Sierra) markedly diminished market interest in green.

The early 1990s saw recession. To counter a decline in car purchase behaviour, insightful manufacturers returned to the powerful notion of colour psychology allied with affordability, character and functionality. Essentially a back to the '70s perspective. Whilst less well managed others (eg soon to be defunct Rover Group) were unresponsive, typically burning cash.

Renault created the landmark Twingo, which managed to merged the traits of Clio's youthful aspiration with monobox packaging, flexible interior and importantly the application of pastel hues taken from youth fashion and the prominence of post-modernism architecture. The car stood very separate from a 'me-too' crowd of competitors, yet was far more relevant to 'in-crowd' early adopter buyers across the age range. The very obscurity of pastels in auto circles made it fresh to fashion informed new eyes. Moreover, unlike America's Euro pastel applications on chrome barges during the 50s, the hues suited Renault's friendly product size and 'face'.

Similar understanding was appreciated at Nissan, when during the same product development period, less radically applied pastel to its various retro-inspired PIKE series cars (Figaro, S-Cargo, Pao, Be-1).

However, the recession period was relatively short, and manufacturers maintained standard colour schemes. Further progress in paint technologies meant that by mid decade a new pallet of pearlescent colours had become available. More subtle than metallic with greater in-colour contrast (by the use of dark and light filler materials). Initially viewed as a breakthrough for yet another new era of colour, its very sophistication and greater susceptibility to UV light created complexities for old vs new paint colour matching on crash repair work, so stalled its mass adoption. As part of its own corporate and MG marque rebound strategy at the time Rover Group used it on the MG-F sportscar (typically purple). Since the paint has primarily been used by after-market customisation / personalisation companies and by the youth market on used performance cars.

Of greatest note for the 1990s was the mass adoption of mid red and return of black, both seen as aspirational colours, greater influx of mid and dark blue (the latter essentially a sibling to black), whilst green tended to disappear (except as mentioned in Europe in pastel form on Twingo).

The 2000s continued the ideology of 'mass aspirationalism' and likewise the generally preferred car colours across the USA, UK and Europe remained static. The only difference being greater proclivity for mid blue in the USA and UK, whilst Europe took on a proportionately greater increase in mid red (possibly a lag effect from).

Similarly, the 2010s have remained relatively constant, the only real trend of late being the shift from “classic black” to “neo-white” for some buyers amongst premium badged cars, no doubt seeking their own differentiation from the 'me too' mainstream crowd in B and C segment vehicles. (And of course the expected re-re-introduction of pastels on retro inspired models such as New Mini and New 500 to inject a further sense of their predecessor's spirit; and so apparent brand integrity and value)
Interestingly, this shift to white appears to have been manufacturer promoted, previous years of international motor-shows more concentrated with white display vehicles. Hence promoting this trend to white appears to have more than a sense of the 'fashionista' about it.

In the post 2008/9 period, with previously heavily declined sales volumes and major impact on top and bottom lines of the income statement, producers once again returned to notions of basic business practice regards input costs and ex-factory pricing elasticity. Given that within the manufacturing process of the paint shop under-coat primers tend to be white and grey (mustard now much less used), it is only logical that the promotion of similar coloured paints will require less coats (layers) to provide the required visual depth and sheen; so saving costs.

Thus in a small sense the 2010s have seen a return to Henry Ford's rationalisation of his famed black. Furthermore, the public's preference for a more limited range of classic upscale colours as solids and metallics, somewhat echoes the more limited colour options last seen in the 1910s and 1920s. This coalition of colour demand and supply where perceived consumer taste meets reduced procurement and process variation, will aid producer's input and operational costs during what presently is a better, but still largely cautious operating period.


This web-log sought to better appreciate whether there is indeed an irrefutable truth in the social observer's adage that “brighter car colours reflect consumer optimism and a growing economy”. This rhetoric hailed historically by social observers and various fund managers.

It was shown in Part 1 that the similar belief regards the height of skirt hemlines was effectively unfounded, based upon a hyperbole that had seen the truism in the mid 1960s.

But does this same miscomprehension also apply to “brighter car colours” reflecting a growing economy?

The basic learning captured herein demonstrates the answer as both “yes” and “no”.

Yes, in so much as during the first quarter of the 20th century those regions experiencing comparatively rapid economic growth (USA and Europe) did see a profusion of lighter shades of green, red and blue in mainstream purchases as contrast to traditional darker shades, with also for the wealthy, young and daring a liking of pale and bright yellows.

Yes, in so much that such lighter colours became more of a mainstay in the conspicuous consumer peak that was 1950s America, this move prompting Detroit to offer relatively radical pastels on its mass aspiration 'near luxury' marques.

No, in so much as during the late 1960s, when the USA was experiencing contraction and Detroit saw volume sales decline, it reacted with ever greater focus on high margin muscle-cars and personal cars, with bright yellow, orange, green and purple paint-schemes with decals. The cars have become icons, but the economic backdrop forgotten.

No, in so much as by the beginning of the economically stagnant 1970s the use of pro-consumption consumer colour psychology (in bright yellow, bright orange, bright green) was re-deployed by the producers of characterful utilitarian models, toward an ironically anti-consumer audience. The gambit was successful in partially supporting the overall poor VM profitability of the period, but certainly did not reflect notions of strongly growing (USA, UK or Euro) economies.

To investment-auto-motives these chronological case studies highlight the fact that there is both partial truth and partial untruth about the “bright colour” economic hypothesis.

The fact is that given the enormous manufacturing and retail facilities costs, capital equipment costs, overhead costs and labour costs within the automotive sector – from its earliest days – the industry has always sought to battle the headwinds of short, mid and long-term economic downturns as best it can. To this end (as demonstrated) it produces and offers light coloured and brightly coloured passenger cars – typically small, functional and affordable - to what it knows to be a relatively down-beat mass consumer base. Recognising that in any recession there will be a relatively small audience for an up-beat proposition.

However, the ultimate success of such a car (in the eyes of the buyer, VM and domestic economy) depends upon a combination of factors including: the severity of the recession (B2C and B2B confidence and credit contraction), the fundamental USP of the specific 'bright car' and the societal context (ie social strata) it can surpass. The early 1960s Mini and early 1990s Twingo where each pitched perfectly as classless cars riding strong economic rebound years.

The big picture pertinent point here is that Mini reputedly became only profitable by the late 1960s, yet partially promoted other Austin-Morris cars for the overall good of the UK economy at the time, whilst Twingo was profitable early in its life-cycle, so boosting Renault's fortunes and the French economy.

Parting Shot -
With this recognition, auto-sector investors should not necessarily believe the all too easily promoted idea about “brightly coloured cars”, and should instead be hectoring the VM auto-producers about the necessity to create meaningful and affordable consumer products during an age when consumer credit is still rightly constrained across the western hemisphere.