(Reprinted on the Historic Vehicle Association web site from Hagerty’s Magazine, Winter 2010)
By Bob Butz
A 2010 REPORT from the Earth Policy Institute spelled bad news for America’s car manufacturers: Americans scrapped 4 million more cars and trucks than they purchased in 2009 — the first significant drop in the U.S. auto fleet in more than four decades. But according to The New York Times, this had less to do with a slumping economy and “Cash for Clunkers” than with disinterest among driving-age teens. “Perhaps the most fundamental social trend affecting the future of the automobile is the declining interest in cars among young people,” says Lester Brown, author of the EPI report.
BLAME IT ON THE INTERNET
“Many of today’s young people living in a more urban society learn to live without cars,” Brown says. “They socialize on the Internet and on smartphones, not in cars.” Carmakers are in for a rough time. But the automobile collector hobby faces an equally daunting problem: The average age of a historic vehicle hobbyist is 55, and 75 percent of hobbyists are 46 or older. The aging demographic was just one of the “top threats” to the collector car hobby discussed in an August symposium at The Quail Lodge Golf Club during the famed Monterey Classic Car Week (see sidebar at right).
RISING COSTS, BIGGER HASSLE
For a growing number of people, the cost of owning a car is prohibitively expensive. Add the cost of insuring young drivers, and it’s not hard to imagine why, in a slumping economy, parents are reluctant to pay for an extra vehicle and add a high-risk policyholder. And recent statistics suggest young people don’t seem to care. According to the most recent U.S. Department of Transportation data, the number of teenagers with licenses, which peaked at 12 million in 1978, is now under 10 million. A whopping 69 percent of 16-year-olds and 51 percent of 17-year-olds did not have their driver’s licenses in 2008.
THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE
The car used to be a symbol of freedom. People loved the way cars looked and understood how they worked. But modern cars are so complex that the average person needs help just to change the oil. Plus, the message nowadays is that the automobile is slowly killing the planet and that driving for pleasure is a waste of time.
Growing the interest of the historic vehicle hobby among young people is a key part of preserving its future. Hagerty’s Operation Ignite! “Connecting Kids with Cars” was designed to do exactly that through interactive events — from youth judging events and young designer contests to the new “Kid Friendly Car Show Kit.” Hagerty strives to provide young people with the opportunity to learn about great cars and boats firsthand.
For more on Hagerty’s Operation Ignite! go to hagerty.com/design/youthprograms.aspx.
Additionally, in the United States and Canada, there could be as many as 20,000 car clubs, and that could amount to millions of members who North American car manufacturers don’t even know exist, says Carmel Roberts, director of Government Relations for the Historic Vehicle Association. “We need to get car manufacturers to start supporting car guys again,” Roberts says. “There’s a logical role automakers should play in supporting automotive heritage, and it starts by connecting their brands to younger generations through their promotion of car clubs.”
According to Roberts, this opportunity has not been lost on European automakers, namely Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Mini Cooper. All have departments to preserve and promote their heritage. “In the end, this is a multifaceted issue that will require a comprehensive approach,” Roberts says. “The need to adequately and proactively address this issue is so compelling that it is one of the major reasons the Historic Vehicle Association was formed. It’s time to transform collecting from a hobby into a worldwide movement.”
Top Threats to the Collector Car Hobby
The HVA hosted a media symposium outlining the “Top Threats to the Collector Car Hobby” this past August. Panelists included Corky Coker, Coker Tire CEO; Wayne Carini, host of Discovery HD’s Chasing Classic Cars; and Michael Kunz, director of Mercedes-Benz Classic Center.
In addition to the hobby’s aging demographic, the panel discussed:
- Disappearing Infrastructure. Evolving transportation technology means the skills essential for repairing, restoring and manufacturing parts for historic vehicles might eventually erode if not nurtured and supported.
- Environmental Regulations. Currently, there are 93 bills in 26 different states dealing specifically with emissions. As new cars become increasingly cleaner, historic vehicles may shift in status from novelty to nuisance.
- Alternative Fuels. The United States is on track to comply with the federal law requiring production of alternative fuels be quadrupled by 2020. Widespread implementation of alternative fuels could mean a disappearing fuel infrastructure for historic vehicles.
Many more challenges may exist for historical vehicle collectors in the near future. What do you think? Share your ideas with other HVA members at historicvehicle.org.