The Starbucks effect

-- What It Is: After decades of obscurity, brown leather car interiors are making a comeback. A growing number of auto makers are offering
coffee- or chocolate-colored hides in high-end models as well as some lower-cost vehicles. Amid the popularity of brown-leather interiors, some makers are using the color for exteriors as well. Buick is using brown as its "lead color" for the launch of its new Enclave luxury vehicle /
-- How to Get It: After years of black, gray and tan interiors, General Motors' Saturn division began offering two-tone "Morocco" brown upholstery in its mass-market Aura sedan - The company says it was surprised when 20% of buyers initially ordered the color when it introduced the car last year. The so-called take rate has since risen to 30%. BMW began offering Saddle Brown leather in its 3- Series convertibles and coupes for 2007 - Chris Webb, color designer for GM, says Cadillac for the 2008 model year will offer a combination of Mocha Metallic exterior with Cocoa interior on most of its models. Even the budget-price Mazda 5 compact van is available with caramel-toned leather seats.
-- Upside: Following trends in interior design, apparel and other consumer products, brown gives cars a high-end look. Mr. Webb calls it the Starbucks Effect. Consumers used to think of brown as earthy and dull, but now they associate it with luxury goods and indulgences from expensive coffee to leather furniture and oversize handbags.
-- Downside: Color trends are cyclical in the car business, so what looks cutting-edge sharp today will seem "so 2007."
-- Cost: It is part of a $1,250 trim upgrade Mazda 5 minivan. BMW charges $1,450 to upgrade to leather from vinyl on its 3-Series cars but brown doesn't cost any more than other colors. There's no extra charge for Espresso leather on the Mercedes-Benz CL550 luxury coupe, which costs about $100,000
-- Comment: The emergence of brown is part of a wider trend toward more colorful cars. While parking lots today seem to be a sea of mostly black, white and shades of silver and gray, color forecasters say they expect to see more blue, purple and orange cars in coming years.
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