Blue In A Green World

Automotive Design 28 Dec 2009
Blue In A Green World

A discussion on how intelligent use of color may help to promote and reinforce the environmentally sound credentials of the Renault Z.E. concepts first shown together at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show.


As Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Renault recently iterated in Paris, concerns over CO2 emissions are no longer just the preserve of the scientific community, they have very much become part of the public consciousness.

Manufacturers have realized that they have to be proactive when it comes to issues surrounding climate change. As a result of this, we are embarking on a very exciting time in automotive design – the handing over of power and influence from one propulsion system to another – the exchange of petrol for electricity.

The fact that Renault is a company with aspirations to be at the forefront of this shift is evidenced by the promise that their four Z.E. (Zero Emission) concept vehicles will be translated into production reality by 2012. With this move, Renault has declared that the past is over and that the revolution in affordable and purposefully designed sustainable motoring most definitely starts here.

Red is a color which is very much associated with revolution so perhaps one would expect to see a great deal of it being used in the Z.E range.

Why then is this not the case? Red symbolizes an incredibly bold and assertive move, and furthermore to a fifth of the World red can be seen to represent luck – surely these vehicles will need some luck on their side in order to succeed.

On the flip side, red is the color of flesh and blood – it can signify danger, anger and of course anarchy. Red is hot headed, impassioned, irrational and overtly emotional.

Renault Fluence ZE ConceptRed then is not the color of a calm and ordered state of mind and because of this it could be said that red might wish to consume resources such as petrol at an irresponsible rate and thus edge us ever closer to ‘Peak Oil’ (if we aren’t already there).

The Z.E concepts of course do not contain a single tail pipe between them so are therefore actively attempting to remove visual signs of their association with unsustainable consumption.

Perhaps even more importantly, we might do well to remember that the visceral emotions red represents are associated with the generation of a great deal of heat. 

And as things get hot they tend to melt, so perhaps the consumer might get the wrong message – the Z.E. range are designed to significantly lower the amount of CO2 being released into the environment (Co2 is of course a ‘greenhouse’ gas responsible for heating up the planet). These vehicles have been created to help protect Earth’s icecaps and glaciers, not to accelerate their demise.

Renault Fluence ZE ConceptAs the green movement and the battle to reduce global warming is probably the most pressing challenge to face the planet, why not go the whole hog then and splash these vehicles with green?

It is, after all, the color of a fresh start, Spring, new shoots, renewal, refreshment, peace and calm.

However, with the introduction of photovoltaic cells and electric motors unsupported by an internal combustion engine, the consumer is dealing with technology which has been placed in an unfamiliar context – the automobile.

Cars are expensive, and the color green is also associated with inexperience and naivety – no customer wants to feel as though they may be gullible (another context in which green is found) so perhaps this is why greens are limited to being used on some very well thought through details across the Z.E. range.

Renault ZE Concept InteriorWorse still, the color green can be linked to expressing a feeling of  nausea – cross that with a passenger who is prone to being travel-sick and the results could be devastating.

Green too is the color of something slightly odd, something not of this earth, a life form which might come from outer space. With this information in mind, it is perhaps slightly surprising that Renault chose to illuminate the windows of the 2008  Z.E. concept with a lime green hue.

The fact that the days of the familiar and reliable petrol burning engine may be numbered might create a certain level of anxiety in some consumers (and of course some car companies too).

What this situation needs then is a calm, measured approach.

Customers need to be given the opportunity to reflect and contemplate in order to be sure that their next vehicle is the intelligent and rational choice, one which is made in order to aid the long term wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants.

Renault Fluence ZE Concept InteriorConsumers also need to know that the technology they are about to invest in is trustworthy and dependable and not temperamental or prone to the fits that new technology can be associated with.

Blue certainly ticks all these boxes and the blue spectrum features very heavily in the Z.E range. Blue of course also very literally says ‘electricity’.

Blue does have perceived negative connotations too as it can be seen as cold, distant, perhaps even removed and can signify a state of depression.

The ‘coldness’ of blue can however be advantageous – in these vehicles there is surely a hint of the hue of the headline-making icebergs which are in such need of being protected.

Moreover, perhaps the overall ‘coldness’ of the Z.E. range is symbolic of automotive companies needing to be perceived as distancing or indeed detaching themselves from their past in order to promote an image of actively pursuing a more responsible future.

Renault Twizy ConceptBlue is also an extremely spiritually significant color and represents serenity.

This symbolism is surely a very important factor in the choice to invest in a zero emissions vehicle. Knowing that one has done ‘their bit’ makes a person feel they are a better human being – and as Renault are keen on being perceived as leading the way, perhaps they are informing potential customers that their next car will stand as an example to drivers of other vehicles and will encourage them to change their irresponsible ways.

It appears that blue has captured the zeitgeist – this revolution is cerebral and serene rather than visceral and bloody.

About the Author

Aysar Ghassan is a Snr Lecturer in Transportation Design & Design For Industry at Northumbria University. His interests includeform, branding and semiotics.

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