For something with no physical presence, colour has a huge effect. It controls moods, signals danger, grants permission – and acts as a refreshing drink for the eyes. It’s just as important in the car world. Lexus dealer principals can tell you about car purchases made not for dynamic, practical, or price reasons, but because the customer liked the colour.
For Lexus, the role of colour is as broad and complex as the spectrum itself. On the simplest level, it determines the character of a car. It’s easy to envisage an LFA in bright orange, for example, but less easy to imagine an LS in the same hue. Beyond that, the palette of Lexus colours has to hit the mark on both an individual and a global level.
Not just immediately, either, but gradually, over time. Overriding all other conditions, colour must underscore the premium nature of the Lexus brand.When you see the breadth and scope of colour’s role in car design, you can also understand why Lexus has its own dedicated Colour Design Department, run by colour Meister Yoichiro Kitamura.
Kitamura got the job after responding to a “colour designer” job description that had been sent to his college by Lexus. “My teacher had never heard of that job title,” Kitamura says, smiling. “To be honest, neither had I. My own background was in product and graphic design.
Lexus Colour Meister Yoichiro Kitamura oversees the Lexus colour selection process for each new model, a process that can take two to three years.
“Obviously I’d learned about colour at school, but I quickly found the science of car colour to be quite different. In simple terms, we use colour to bring out and maximize a car’s character – but that takes us right into the psychology of colour, and how we can use depth and clarity to accentuate the shape and size of a car.
“The role of colour designer has now become very specific and specialized, but I think it’s good to choose colour designers from wider, non-specific design pools, like graphics and textiles. They bring in different external influences.”
Coming up with a colour for a new Lexus is a little bit more involved than holding some swatches up to the light and counting hands for and against. The colour development process routinely takes between two and three years, and is a collaboration between Japan, the U.S., and Europe. Detailed input comes not just from designers, but also from engineers, salespeople, and customers.
The first point of consideration is the car type, sedan or coupe, and its character, sports or luxury. Kitamura and his staff work closely with Mr. Nishimura of the Material Engineering Department to find appropriate premium and traditional “Japanese” colours and textures for the Lexus brand. That’s inside as well as out: uniting a car’s exterior with its cabin is of primary importance.
Possible new colours and textures must be prototyped long before launch. “There are always technical difficulties in accurately translating the colours that I have in my mind,” says Kitamura. “You get discrepancies with monitors, inks, and any colour samples. Ultimately we always use natural sunlight to verify colours.”
The Lexus colour design team works hard to co-ordinate interior and exterior colours.
“Sometimes I think there can be too much choice,” Kitamura says with a laugh. “We have 30 main choices of Lexus body colours, but the LFA has unlimited options. Even so, around half of LFA customers choose white. Black and silver are very popular Lexus choices, so more effort is going into enriching and differentiating these colours with unique textures and depths.”
Breaking through production-line restrictions by using pearl, metal, and mineral textures allows the Colour Design Department to create colours that are beyond the scope of most mass-market vehicles.
The thing about colour, of course, is that its appreciation is entirely subjective, a fact underlined by the views of the ladies in the Colour Design Department, each of whom has her own favorite Lexus colour. For one, Black Opal Mica was “love at first sight.” For another, it was the CT 200h‘s prize-winning combination of Flare Yellow Mica Metallic and black. Another doubts that any red can ever match the depth and vividness of the IS’s Red Mica Crystal Shine.
Mr. Nishimura chimes in with his own favorite – Sonic Silver. “That was designed to look like pure metal,” he says. “It presented us with many unique challenges during development – and we engineers like a challenge.”
This article was originally published in Beyond by Lexus magazine.