February 24, 2024

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Innovation in the Automotive Realm

How BMW Paint Colors Have Evolved and Why

2 min read

The final chapter of Steve Saxty’s “BMW’s Hidden Gems” is devoted to the art of differentiation. Colors, trim, and wheels all allow a buyer to personalize their car, often in order to stand out from the crowd. Color selection can be fraught – companies have to track trends (often in fashion and furniture) to understand what’s hot and what’s not. Get it right and you sell more cars—get it wrong and you’re stuck with mark-down inventory (the oft-told tale of car dealerships and ‘hang around brown’).

The Evolution of Automotive Paint: From Lacquer to Metallics

The paint process is one of the most energy-intensive activities in car manufacturing. In earlier days, when paint was lacquer and metallics weren’t available, you were stuck with a handful of hues—often pastel (they hid the inevitable fade better than bolder colors). Then in the 1970s, new paint formulas allowed the designers to expand their color horizons. BMW’s designers explored the edges of those horizons. Take, for example, the incredible orange on the BMW Turbo (detailed in chapter 2 of “BMW’s Hidden Gems”).

The 1970s: A New Era of Paint Technology and Design

Buyers eventually gravitated towards the brighter colors available in the 1990s. And during that period, BMW offered some outstanding choices, one favorite being the luscious Laguna Seca Blue available on the E46 M3—a standout color and car to this day. BMW buyers are often at the edge of new consumer products, and those trends influence the designers’ color palette as well.

Iconic Shades: Highlighting BMW’s Standout Colors

In the last ten years, BMW and others have pushed matte colors—what old hot-rodders would call ‘flat paint’. That took some work to get past the management board, but seeing the reaction of showgoers to frozen-finished cars convinced them. BMW designers take advantage of new car launches and LCIs to test the waters for new colors, like Thundernight Metallic and San Remo Green, to name a couple.

Innovative Surface Treatments: The BMW i Vision Dee

One of the most intriguing surface treatments was the color-changing film, developed by the E Ink Corporation, on the BMW iX in 2022. Then in 2023, the BMW i Vision Dee was covered in programmable capsules of active pigments—and it too was a smash hit. Not to be forgotten are the BMW art cars. A walk through the BMW museum will satisfy your desire to see the art cars in close proximity. There are now over 20 BMW art cars—and surely more on the way.

Steve Saxty’s “BMW’s Hidden Gems” is a wealth of behind-the-scenes tales from the BMW design studios. Well worth the read.

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