BASF colour designer Eva Höfli talks about today’s fashions, tomorrow’s trends and their impact on automobile colours in the future

APS: What’s everyday work like for a colour designer in the car industry?

Eva Höfli (EH): Oh, it differs a great deal - depending on what stage our work has reached. During the research phase we travel around a great deal, to textile and furniture fairs, for instance. There we make observations: What’s new? What new colours and surface textures are on the way in? With this knowledge we work out an initial collage.

We then take that to the lab in order to develop some initial paint samples from these ideas with the help of the paint specialists. The end product of this development phase is our trend collection, which we present to Europe’s car manufacturers.

APS: In which ways can the trend colours from the textile and furniture industries be applied to the car sector?

EH: Certainly not on a one-to-one basis. Colour trends in the textile field are far more short-lived than those in the furniture sector or even in the car industry. But we develop a feeling for the direction in which the predilections and tastes of the consumer are going to move - above all, because we observe these trends over the long term.

APS: How reliable are your trend forecasts?

EH: They are very sound. Of course, we don’t read tea leaves but conduct research in a wide range of fields, and, along with other factors, we also integrate general social trends into our trend analyses! When we forecasted a new trend in white colours a few years ago, nobody in the car industry really wanted to believe us. But, a short time later, white colours on cars were on their way in again. Previously, the percentage of white cars in the new-vehicle registrations had been around 0.5 per cent. After a while, white accounted for 8 per cent with some manufacturers!

APS: Are there colours that don’t work at all on cars? EH: There actually aren’t any colours like that nowadays. Rather, what matters are the target group, the car in question and the intensity of the colour. A bright pink on a posh offroad vehicle is something that is hardly likely to catch on in OEM coatings in the next few years. With people who like experimenting or the female class of customers who tend to buy relatively small sporty city minis, pink tones are quite conceivable though.

APS: What factors determine whether or not a colour trend produces a trend colour?

EH: That is determined by the vehicle manufacturers - and, of course, ultimately by the car purchasers as well. It’s the vehicle manufacturers that pick up colours from our trend forecasts and then adopt them on a one-to-one basis or develop them with us. And it’s the consumers who choose a very specific colour from the range offered by the manufacturers. It’s a good thing if a new colour basically matches the Zeitgeist but still offers such a new feeling that people say: “Hey, that’s quite interesting, I want that colour too!”

APS: How long does it take for a trend colour from your collection to appear on a car rolling off the line?

EH: It all depends. Some of our trend colours can be used immediately for OEM coatings. Others, for example ones with brand new effect pigments, still need a little more development time. Experience shows that it takes between three to five years from the day on which we present our trend collection to a car manufacturer to the day on which a vehicle rolls off the assembly line in one of these trend colours. If the vehicle manufacturers opt for a colour that is ready for use in production, the coating will again be extensively tested for all its properties; for example, it will be exposed to the elements, and to sunlight and snow, for a whole year. If the vehicle manufacturers actually opt for a novel colour concept, to begin with, there will be an extensive experimental phase prior to these tests under everyday conditions. That takes a long time.

APS: That all sounds as if a lot of effort is needed. Why are new colours being constantly developed in any case?

EH: The vehicle manufacturers are always looking for new colours that will give their new models a distinctive appearance. Technical details don’t make a new model stand out from its predecessors or those of competitors anything like as much as a new, fresh colour does. Such a colour may quite well be the crucial factor in the decision to purchase if the customer has to decide between two similar vehicles.