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Why Are Car Color Names So Bizarre?

I was recently researching new cars, as the time is rapidly approaching when I must sell my aging Range Rover and get something else, and I was struck by a realization: Car color names are really strange. In fact, they’ve always been really strange. Why is this?

Here’s what I mean: I was looking at the Audi SQ5, which is this nice zippy little SUV, and so I was on the Audi SQ5 configurator page, and I went through the colors. Here’s my personal description of the colors:

– White

– Black

– Gray

– Metallic Black

– Blue

– Green

– Silver

– Red

– Blue-Gray

– Dark Gray

Well, guess what? Audi doesn’t call the colors by the names I personally would give them. Instead, Audi has the following names for these colors:

– Ibis White

– Brilliant Black

– Monsoon Gray

– Mythos Black

– Navarra Blue

– Azores Green

– Florett Silver

– Matador Red

– Moonlight Blue

– Daytona Gray

What do any of these things even mean? What is so brilliant about “Brilliant Black”? Is it smarter than the other colors? Is “Monsoon Gray” meant to evoke the color of the skies during a monsoon? What about this particular shade of green reminds you of the Azores? And what even is an “ibis,” or a “Navarra,” or a “florett”? Presumably, these words have meaning, though I’d have to look them all up.

I’m singling out Audi here because I was recently on their configurator, but strange color names are a reality of every single car in today’s automotive industry. I’ll choose a random car: the Hyundai Sonata, an excellent new midsize sedan. A black Sonata is not black. It’s Phantom Black. A blue Sonata is not blue. It’s Noveau Blue. There’s also a brown color called “Dark Truffle.”

Why can’t the automakers simply name the colors what they are? I recognize that, many years ago, people actually remembered their color names, and they bragged about them to other people they encountered on the streets — for instance, someone would say “Oh, I just got my Dodge Charger in Alabaster White, and boy she’s a beaut!” But this does not happen anymore. Outside car dealerships and Internet forums, nobody has any idea — or cares — that the Buick Encore’s red color is called “Winterberry Metallic.” Or that a gray-painted Volvo XC90 is actually “Osmium Grey Metallic.” I could go on.

And it’s not even like most of these cars have many shades of the same color. The SQ5 has just one blue; you could call it blue. You’re not trying to distinguish it from other blues. Sure, the XC90 has two grays — but one is light, and one is dark. So call it that!

If I were a car company — which I am not; I am a person who sits around eating Doritos — I would stop this silly car color naming, in large part because I suspect it’s highly expensive for the automaker to pay some creative company to actually come up with these names. Instead, I’d call red “red.” I’d call blue “blue.” If there was ever a light blue and a dark blue, I’d call them that. If there were ever three blues, I’d call them light blue, blue, and dark blue. My car company would be simple. And the cars would have little hand wipes so you could remove Doritos residue from your fingers. Find a car for sale

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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  1. I disagree, I like the creative names for colors, It kind of makes you feel better, I got my Volt in a boring white because it’s what they had on the lot, But it’s not just white, it’s SUMMIT WHITE, While I hated the silver on my Equinox it consoled myself that it was a Silver Ice Metallic and I told myself it may have a hue of blue which I prefer, Also Grey on European cars looks so much better than Silver, It’s a car color I wouldn’t miss.

  2. You wanna know about blue? MINI has had:

    Carribean Aqua
    Cool Blue
    Cosmic Blue
    Deep Blue
    Digital Blue
    Electric Blue
    Horizon Blue
    Hyper Blue
    Ice Blue
    Indi Blue
    Kite Blue
    Lapisluxury Blue
    Lightning Blue
    Oxygen Blue
    Reef Blue
    Space Blue
    Starlight Blue
    Surf Blue
    Thunder Blue
    True Blue

    My car, a Scion, is navy blue. Paint name? Ultramarine. Navy blue, and also hyperbole.

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