Chrome Is Dying Because It'll Kill You

Image: Stellantis
Image: Stellantis

Say goodbye to the shiny stuff. Chrome has been synonymous with automotive style and luxury since the early days, and some of the greatest cars of the last 100 years have been adorned with the mirror reflection surface afforded by hexavalent chromium. Stellantis, an automaker that practically has shiny top layer chrome flowing in its veins, has vowed to finally remove chrome from its cars going forward, as it’s a toxic and aggressively carcinogenic chemical. Stellantis is getting aggressive in its bid to nix the chemical, with chief global designer Ralph Gilles calling the plan “Death of Chrome.”

The California Air Resources Board has labeled hexavalent chromium as “the second most potent toxic air contaminant identified by the state,” and told CNN that it is “500 times more toxic than diesel exhaust and has no known safe level of exposure.”

The chrome already in your car won’t hurt you, but the process of getting it there was quite dangerous to the folks building it. Chromium 6 carries risk factors during the electro-plating process, when the chemical can come into contact with workers, or potentially even be released into the atmosphere. Chrome plating has become a much more difficult and expensive process in recent years as regulators push for safer and cleaner practices. California, where most of the U.S. chrome plating happens, is pushing toward an all-out ban of using chromium 6 in the “chroming” process.


Gilles admitted that there are less dangerous alternatives, like trivalent chromium, which is much less toxic and involves a simpler process. The finish, says the design legend, isn’t quite right. The Stellantis push to kill chrome in cars is bigger than just some badging.

“The problem is the luster isn’t as good. It has a more yellow kind of finish,” Gilles said. “Whereas hexavalent is extremely good, very brilliant, very clear and that’s why people have come to love it. They don’t realize what they’re looking at, but they’ve come to love it. We have to make them unlove it.”

“Sometimes you don’t want a very holistic, black and white type of contrast. Sometimes a tonal contrast is even more attractive,” he continued. “So we’re using bronzes and silvers and graphite where chrome used to be, to create that offset.”

Perhaps without chrome we’ll see the return of the infamous “gold package” cars of the 1990s, or maybe lighted badges will continue to grow in popularity. I hate chrome so much that I’m definitely OK with whatever comes next, it has to be better than chrome.

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