While red is far and away the most popular color these days on the ledger books of the nation's automakers, vehicle buyers are moving from darker toward lighter, brighter shades.

In fact, white now accounts for more the 20 percent of the market in all vehicle categories, according to an annual study by DuPont Automotive Products issued Friday.DuPont also said indications are the early 1990s will be the most colorful years in automotive history, despite the current bleak sales outlook.

"What we're seeing are some of those `retro-look' colors of 1950s and '60s like the bright pastels, only updated with metallic versions," said Robert S. Daily, manager of DuPont's Color Marketing and Styling.

Most consumers choose products on the basis of color, so Du-Pont, a major supplier of automotive paints, tracks trends in the high fashion and furniture industries that are used as a bellwethers by automakers, Daily said.

The study divided the industry into full- and medium-size cars, compacts and sports cars, luxury cars, and light trucks and vans.

Colors in the full- and medium-sized class remained stable, with white, medium red and medium gray maintaining their top three rankings for the third straight year, it said.

But bright red jumped from 12th to seventh place in one year. Black, medium blue, dark red and browns all declined in popularity.

In the compact and sporty segment, bright red remained the top choice, followed closely by white. But aqua and turquoise showed strong gains, underscoring a return to pastels. Black slipped from third to fifth place.