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What's happening to the color of LA cars? Inside the obsession with muted earth tones

Daniel Miller, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

LOS ANGELES — Flat. Muddy. Neutral. Desaturated.

Even wet putty.

There are many descriptions for a new style of car paint that has become popular in recent years, but none quite captures the essence of the know-it-when-you-see-it look.

The hues are muted earth tones — grays, tans, browns and others — that lack the light-reflecting metallic flake that is typically mixed in with car paint. And it's a look that's gone — over the course of a decade — from rare to near ubiquity in car-obsessed Los Angeles. Companies from Porsche to Jeep, Nissan and Hyundai now offer this sort of paint.

Automakers say these earthy shades convey a sense of adventure — stealthiness even. To some design experts, the colors represent harmony with nature. To other observers, they have a quasi-military feel, reflecting the craze for all things tactical. And car critics see in them the expression of drivers' contradictory desires — to stand out while also conforming.

"I think the color is calming; I think this color is very soothing," said Tara Subkoff, an artist and actress with credits including "The Last Days of Disco" who drives a Porsche Panamera painted a subdued gray called Chalk. "When there is so much traffic, and it is literally increasing in the last few months astronomically — and almost unbearably — to have less red and orange is maybe good."


Want this low-key look? It'll cost you. Sometimes dearly. The paint colors, which are mostly offered on sports cars and utility vehicles, often command premiums. In some cases, they are merely options that can add a few hundred dollars to an automobile's price tag. In others, they run $10,000-plus and are reserved for special cars, such as extra-rugged off-roaders or ultra-high-performance two-seaters.

"People are willing to go up a trim level and pay a surcharge for these colors, because some cars look best in [them]," said Ivan Drury of Edmunds, the automotive information service, who noted that these colors sometimes are only offered for a short period of time, creating a sense of urgency for prospective buyers. "It's, 'Hey, if you like this, you better get it now, because you are never going to see it again in this model.' "

The trend was kick-started in 2013 by Audi with its debut of the color Nardo Gray on its RS 7, a powerful four-door coupe whose twin-turbocharged V-8 was good for more than 550 horsepower. It was, said Mark Dahncke, Audi of America's director of communications, the first "solid gray on the market," referring to paint that lacks sparkle. A few years later, the company offered the color on other speedy RS models.

"Audi definitely set a trend during this time," Dahncke said. "Now solid colors are becoming more and more popular."


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