Spectrum of Choice

How Lexus chooses car colors

01/31/2013—For Lexus, the role of color is as broad as the color spectrum itself.

On the simplest level, it determines the character of a car: an LFA can be bright orange, but an LS cannot. On a more complex level, Lexus colors have to excel beyond the average mass-market vehicle—in other words they need to be worthy of a premium brand. And above all else, Lexus colors must appeal to a type of driver who’s pretty discerning.

Understandably, therefore, Lexus has an entire department dedicated to nailing all of the above, whether it’s a color-option update for an existing model, a full color line for a completely new model, or a one-time choice for a concept.

“In simple terms, our main challenge is to use color to bring out and maximize a car’s character,” explains Yoichiro Kitamura (left), who heads up the Lexus Color Design Department. “That takes us right into the psychology of color, and how we can use depth and clarity to accentuate the shape and size of the vehicle.”

Creating a Lexus color is more involved than holding a swatch up to the light and taking a vote. The color-development process takes between two and three years, and is a collaboration between Japan, the U.S., and Europe. Throughout the process, input comes from Lexus engineers, salespeople, and customers.

When choosing a new car’s color line, the first point his department considers, says Kitamura, is car type and character: sedan or SUV, sports or luxury. Not surprisingly, Kitamura’s team also works closely with the Lexus Material Engineering Department to find premium traditional “Japanese” colors and textures that work with the advanced technologies that go into Lexus body paints.

Kitamura notes that the years-long process for new colors and textures includes testing them on materials long before their launch on the model. “There are always technical difficulties in accurately translating the colors that I have in my mind,” says Kitamura. “You get discrepancies with monitors, inks, and any color samples. Ultimately we always use natural sunlight to verify colors.”

“Sometimes I think there can be too much choice for Lexus vehicles,” Kitamura says with a chuckle. “We have about 30 main choices of Lexus body colors, not to mention the limitless LFA options. However, shades of black and silver are very popular Lexus choices, so we put much effort into enriching and differentiating these particular colors with unique textures and depths.”

So do any of the Lexus color specialists have their own favorites?

One tells us that Black Opal Mica was “love at first sight,” but another likes the combination of Flare Yellow Mica Metallic on the CT 200h. Yet another maintains that the depth and vividness of the IS’s Red Mica Crystal Shine is unmatchable.

Another color specialist, a materials engineer, chimes in with his own favorite: Sonic Silver. “This one was designed to look like pure metal,” he says. “It presented us with many unique challenges during development—and we Lexus engineers and color specialists always like a challenge.”