Road to 2030: Classic car future will be determined by millennials and electrics

Road to 2030: Classic car future will be determined by millennials and electrics

The future isn't grim, but it will be here sooner than you might anticipate

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a 6-part series examining where the collector car hobby is headed in the next decade and beyond. Read the rest of the series hereRoger Falcione is the founder, president and chief executive of ClassicCars.com.

Roger Falcione

Ten years ago, the world was recovering from one of the worst recessions in modern history. Within a year, the improving economy and extremely low interest rates – coupled with some pent-up demand – sent collector car prices on the rise.

Today, the economy has fully recovered and even though sale prices have stalled recently, collector cars have had a great run. But a new challenge now faces the car world. 

It’s not financial. It’s generational.

The Baby Boomers played a big part in boosting the car market back to where it is today. They were the driving force behind the rebound. The problem is Boomers are getting older. The oldest boomers are 72 and they are selling more and buying less. 

Today’s buyers are known as Generation X. Born between 1965 and 1979, they tend to have more interest in cars from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Much like the boomers’ muscle cars, these are the cars with which they grew up, worked on with their parents or friends and made memories. 

Unlike Boomers, teenage freedom and privacy from parents for Gen Xers arrived in an imported car – likely from Japan – instead of in a Ford Mustang. As they grow to be the dominant buyers in the market, it won’t come as a shock when we see the stock of the traditional muscle car plateau and even drop over time.

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The real riddle going forward is the millennial generation and the rising tide of electric cars. By 2030, millennials will be between 36 and 50, typically when most classic car hobbyists start to get involved. They are the largest generation to date, but questions continue to linger about how they’ll use their buying power.

Unlike past generations, most millennials will likely have grown up without the memories of working on a car with a family member. They’re accustomed to technological developments that can alter an industry in months, not years or decades. As their use of ride-share apps and, though it’s still decades away, fully autonomous cars, they very well could be the generation that turns cars back into what they were originally intended to be.

By definition, a car is simply a means of transportation. They are made to get people from one place to another. Everything else – and I mean everything else – is purely personal; how it drives, how it looks, the comfort level, what memories it holds. If millennials look at a car more as a tool than an extension of who they are, will that not impact what a car may be worth in the future?

Then there’s electrification. Every manufacturer has a plan for electric vehicles. Some marques, such as Volvo, plan to be fully electric within a decade. 

Semi-autonomous vehicles are here already, and fully autonomous cars are inevitable. But this doesn’t mean the death of the gas-powered car or driving. Most of these cars are made for well-marked city roads and there are thousands of miles out there that don’t meet that standard. There’s also the fact that, despite what some may claim, millennials enjoy driving. It is up to us to share our love of cars with them and involve them more in car related events.

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As all of this unfolds, by 2030 we will likely see a drop in the run-of-the-mill classic sales. I’m not talking about the high-end cars because there will still be a market for them. It’s more the driver-quality, pre-mid-‘70s cars that simply may no longer interest a large enough portion of that generation.

For millennials, could electric cars become the next hot-ticket item? By 2030, Tesla’s roadster will be 21 years old. The original Model S will be 18. As long as they are physically maintained, there could be some interest among millennials who want a shot at owning something dated.

There could also be a massive market shift like nothing the car world has ever seen. Most electric cars do not change much and, in fact, could do away with model years altogether. 

A 2012 Tesla, thanks to the internet, has the exact same software as one that just rolled off the production line (except for hardware and software related to autonomous driving). One doesn’t have to go out and get the latest model year to get the most updated technology. What matters to future generations may not be the physical body of the car, but the capabilities of the software it runs.

Big events like Monterey Car Week could breathe more life into the collector car hobby. Numerous manufacturers have used the event to roll out new models alongside classic examples. Who knows? In the future, seeing these two cars together could motivate a millennial to pick up a vintage model instead.

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I don’t want to paint a grim future for classic cars because, frankly, I don’t think the future is dim. I think there’s plenty of room among the millennial generation for both gas-powered and modern-day electric cars, especially as the new generation of car enthusiasts grows older and develops more of an appreciation for collector vehicles. 

I do, however, recognize that change will now happen far more rapidly and we’ll all have to work harder to adjust to that.

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11 Comments

  • Gus Lucas
    August 18, 2018, 3:28 PM

    When is someone going to do a show about cars people can afford driver quality classics 15 to 25,000 what to look for where to find them what’s a goodbye and what’s not all the shows we watch are nothing but a dream for most people looking forward to your comment and response

    REPLY
    • Joe Ruotolo@Gus Lucas
      August 20, 2018, 11:30 AM

      When’s someone going to post a comment using completely, grammatically correct sentences, proper punctuation, and meaningful breakdown of coherent thought?

      REPLY
  • Alan Lury
    August 18, 2018, 4:05 PM

    When you go to local car shows, most of the owners are in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. The high end vehicles (over $250k) will always have a market because they are viewed by their owners as not only a vehicle but also a part of their overall investment portfolio in which the vehicle is part of their overall diversification strategy.

    The average Joe who has maybe at most a $50k vehicle is going to find that the value of the vehicle will decline over the next 10 years as the market is flooded with vehicles from the individuals mentioned above, potentially significantly depending upon the length and depth of the next recession. The inventory is going to grow significantly because of the owners who either realize their time is short and they want to convert their asset to cash, they need the cash for medical and or long term care, or they are no longer are able to drive. The only hope that this won’t happen is if they for some reason just park the car and let it sit until the husband and wife both pass. This scenario will lead to some interesting "barn finds" in 20 years or so, and really would only slow the decline in the value of collector cars negligibly

    The bottom line is that their kids – now 35-60 – have huge mortgages that they are paying, huge college payments looming, spiraling medical costs and trying to save as much as possible for their own retirement since by 2030 there are going to be significant changes to social security that will significantly cut future benefits for those under 45 at that time. If there was a way to short the collector car business today in about 5 to 7 years from now, (like shorting stocks) then I would be all in.

    If you think that Millennials are going to save your butt, think again. Remember they are the first generation born with electronic devices in their hands from early life. A vehicle is only a means for them to get from point A to point B. These kids are very smart. They are not going to invest their hard earned money in an investment that the likelihood will be they will lose money 9 out of 10 times when they go to sell it. They may invest at the high end – but for investment purposes only. Finally, we are already seeing issues today in the motorcycle industry. The number of younger drivers is significantly less than in previous generations. Millennials realize that driving on a two wheel vehicle going 70 miles an hour with the only thing between you and the road is your body with a helmet on your head.

    Enjoy the Classic Car industry while you can, it is going the way of NASCAR….

    REPLY
    • Sleek Lemur@Alan Lury
      October 18, 2018, 12:03 PM

      Best comment I have seen on this subject. Sad for me as a GenX Mercedes Pagoda owner, but unfortunately, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, my friend.

      REPLY
  • Dan Quinnell
    August 18, 2018, 5:33 PM

    If a 4 year old sees my 68 Cougar next to a 2018 Mustang, he or she is going to almost certainly going to get excited about the Cougar. They just know classic styling and characteristics even if they know absolutely nothing else about cars. Classics are not classics because of the era in which they were developed or chiefly employed, but because of what they are.

    REPLY
  • brian pawlak
    August 18, 2018, 6:42 PM

    The Baby Boomers will just hand me down Hot Rods to family when their done, most of them do not even know how to drive them. Us true car lovers will be gone with the great memories, sorry.

    REPLY
  • ian Ball
    August 18, 2018, 9:21 PM

    Thing with electric . They may not be affordable to run as electricity coat will be sky high due to the extra demand in cars . This will effect everything . We don’t even produce enough nor will we with out causing untold damage to the planet. The demand will simple keep on rising. Who will pay over the top for electricity for a car when the need it in the home and manufacturing will see costs rise. Electric cars is really a pipe dream . Or simply to con people in to paying high costs. The US have long roads .how meny charges will you need to go coast to coast or just to the next state. Theres a long way to go before you will get a long range electric car. Hybrid seems the only real solution right now. Unless you can get a zero point energy engine. Better to perfect that then come up with better battaries and it may prove the fastest way. Electrics can and will break down. To fix them will cost way too much. Theres no need for the over rated high costs of making cars .there way over priced for what you get. There lose as people just won’t pay it eny more.

    REPLY
    • David W@ian Ball
      October 15, 2018, 2:06 AM

      Wrong. Old thinking, Tesla model 3 is already a best seller with 400k on a waiting list. If you can’t see that electric will take over and very quickly, you are not paying attention. There is talk of some states banning ICE vehicles by 2030. How does that effect to classic car market of today.?

      REPLY

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