It shines, it glitters, it energizes and allures. In fact, the importance and psychology of color is unmistakable, even in the automotive realm.

"It's critical," says Susan Sage, Color and Materials design manager, at Ford Motor Company. "Color creates an aesthetic emotion. If it's a color that the customer loves, if it gives them that sense of balance and comfort, they'll want it. It can make or break a sale."

Determining the color palette for a vehicle is no simple process, she says. It's a collaborative effort among designers intent on creating a harmonious interior and exterior color package that will appeal to customers and enhance the architecture and design cues of the vehicle itself.

For the 2009 Lincoln MKS, for instance, the message was luxury, and its color palette - with a mixture of metallics, tri-coats, rich tones and neutrals - articulates that clearly.

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The MKS is available in Tuxedo Black Metallic, White Suede, Brilliant Silver Metallic, Sangria, Smokestone, Light Ice Blue, Dark Ink Blue, Cinnamon and White Chocolate. A selection of interior colors has been chosen to specifically complement each tone.

"The MKS has beautiful lines," Sage says. "The colors we chose had a lot to do with architecture. Using a premium paint for our premium cars is to enhance the exterior architecture of the car by giving it a luxurious ‘liquid' look."

The colors chosen for the MKS - both interior and exterior - denote quality and luxury, she says.

"The one thing we were really excited about was this was the first year we were able to have a black metallic that really enhances the form," Sage says.  "You'll see in the color palette and in the paints that we've enhanced them by using different type of flakes."

The importance of color can't be overstated, agrees Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and author of six books on the topic. In fact, in "The Color Answer Book," Eiseman specifically addresses the significance of color and cars.

"Color and emotion are tied in together, and buying a car is a very emotional thing for a lot of people," she said. "A car is really an extension of your personality, an extension of who you are and how you want to be perceived."

Color is powerful, sometimes changing how others see you, she says.

"I had a client who was very successful in the insurance industry," she recalls. "He was kind of a gray guy; he drove a very practical car and was very reserved. The first thing he did when he retired was buy a red sports car."

"To him that car represented a change of lifestyle. It was colorful, sexy. It was fun to drive," she added.  "He was happy in that car. He said, ‘This is how I want people to perceive me - as a dynamic person.'"

While a plethora of factors play into the purchase of a car, she says, color certainly has an impact.

"People might think, ‘Oh, it's so shallow of me,' so they won't acknowledge it," Eiseman says. But I've had people tell me, ‘Yes, it's very important.'"

For the palette of Lincoln's flagship MKS, the design team looked not only at the lines of the vehicle, but at trends in architecture, fashion, home furnishings and in the evolution of luxury standards in the U.S.

"We have to look at where the industry is moving, what's doing well, and how it evolves," says Sage, who is also an artist in her own right. "You have to take a holistic approach to design, to look inside and out."

"As a painter and a sculptor, I understand when color is applied to form, what works and what doesn't. You know when it's right. It has to be harmonious. It has to sing. You have to put a product out there that people know just feels right," she says.  "Maybe they don't even know why they love it - they just know that it makes them feel good."

Color splash

The color of a car speaks volumes, Eiseman says.  While there are a wealth of different shades that must be considered, here are some basic messages each color conveys:

Black: Empowered; not easily manipulated. Loves elegance, appreciates the classics.

White: Fastidious

Deep Blue-Red: Some of the same qualities of vibrant red - sexy, speedy, high-energy and dynamic - but far less obvious about it.

Light to Mid-Blue: Cool, calm, quiet.

Dark blue: Credible, confident and dependable.

Silver: Elegant, futuristic, cool.