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Why Are Car Color Names So Bizarre?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2017

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.

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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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Why Are Car Color Names So Bizarre? - Autotrader