mini electric concept

Contrasting paint hasn’t been commonplace on automobiles in over half a century, but it appears to be regaining some of its lost momentum lately. Everything from the Bugatti Chiron to the Toyota Camry offers separate bodywork hues these days.

Of course, we don’t know if this is a trend poised to explode across the industry or something that will be relegated to a handful of models before fizzling out. However, with new crossovers like the Volkswagen T-Roc, Range Rover Velar, and Volvo XC40 available with contrasting rooflines, it seems ready to enjoy at least 15 minutes of fame. 

According to Automotive News, manufacturers have at least realized they’re onto something. Ford’s former head of design, J Mays, admitted to being heavily influenced by the returning Mini’s two-tone color scheme while working on the retro-inspired Flex.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t influenced by the first-generation New Mini, which had beautiful wraparound glass and this lovely little skullcap in white and later in black,” he said. “[The Flex’s white roof] added a little bit of panache to the car and made it feel a bit like a modern-day woody, which is what we were trying to do.”

“I think it influenced a lot of other manufacturers,” Mays continued. “Some of them are quite successful, and some are really terrible, but everyone seems to have jumped on that bandwagon.”

Dozens of cars, mainly crossovers and SUVs, have received the treatment since the early 2000s. Automakers saw that they could dramatically alter the persona of a given model, adding an element of fun or class, and the trend started to take hold in Europe before spilling over to the rest of the globe.

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“It’s incredible how people react to the bitone colors,” stated Alexandre Malval, head of design at Citroen, which offers two-tone options on four models. “If you give them two colors to assemble, immediately the car has different personalities. Red with a white roof is a little bit sporty; cream with a black roof is a little more solid and tough. One in pastel with a white roof could be a little more feminine.”

The downside is that two-tone models often increases the cost of production. Sending a model through for a second coat of entirely different paint takes more time, money, and effort than a single solid color — which easily results in a higher MSRP.

“Bitone paint finishes are always more labor intensive because of the masking they require,” a spokeswoman from Axalta Coating Systems in Switzerland explained. “That means the need for more people, which in turn can mean the potential for mistakes.”

The second color is applied either in a second line, which means additional investment, or via a second run on the main line, which reduces capacity. This is one of the reasons most manufacturers are only offering bitone paint as an optional extra on a handful of models.

Range Rover Velar

“The demand is much higher than we thought,” said Matthew Harrison, vice president of sales and marketing at Toyota Motors Europe. “One of our headaches is keeping up with the bitone trend. We’re having to constantly argue with manufacturing to raise the production capacity levels.”

Hopefully its a trend you’re fond of, as the odds are good it will persist for at least a few more years. Manufacturers are developing solutions to make the process less intensive and more are opting into having it as a standard option. Volvo, for example, baked the two-tone concept into the XC40 from day one. It offers two separate trims with distinctive roof colors as well as a single-color variant.

However, no trend lasts forever.

“Ubiquity usually relegates everything to the trash bin,” Mays explained. “The companies that have this as part of their brand DNA like Mini or Land Rover, it won’t go out of style … It’s going to be one of those things you look back on in 10 years’ time and say, ‘Oh yeah, that was from that era right around 2016-2017 when everybody seemed to be doing two-tone.'”

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[Images: BMW Group, Volvo Cars, Land Rover]