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Road to 2030: Age of Autonomy will be good for vintage vehicles

Road to 2030: Age of Autonomy will be good for vintage vehicles

And just wait until Gen Z makes its mark on the collector car hobby

Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a week-long series that looks to the future of the collector car hobby. Today, McKeel Hagerty, chief executive of the family owned insurance, valuation and automotive lifestyle company, considers the impact (pardon the pun) of autonomous cars and demographic changes on the collector car hobby.

McKeel Hagerty

In 2030, the world of cars, driving and collectibles will be similar to today. 

Also, completely different. That may sound contradictory but it’s not. That’s simply how the world works. Change is seldom a straight line. 

Just last year, for instance, Detroit and Silicon Valley were convinced that the great Age of Autonomy was upon us and soon we’d all be sitting in the back seat sipping lattes and watching videos while our robot car ferried us around. An industry friend of mine went so far as to predict that human-driven cars could be legislated off the highway within 15 years, and everyone will have five years thereafter to “get their car off the road or sell it for scrap or trade it in on a module.”

That may still happen, but I doubt it. Industry experts already are pumping the brakes on when driverless technology will be truly pervasive. The New York Times, for instance, recently quoted Ford’s Jim Hackett as saying, “We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles.” The article itself was headlined “Despite High Hopes, Self-Driving Cars Are ‘Way in the Future.” 

The problem, it seems, is that while driverless technology is already incredibly advanced, it still struggles to understand what we predictably unpredictable humans will do on the road, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. You can hardly blame it.

Gen Xers and Millennials supposedly were not “as into” cars as Baby Boomers. And yet, suddenly, they are the rising force in the enthusiast vehicle market. 

Now, I haven’t heard too many revised predictions for when mass autonomy will be the norm. But I think it’s safe to say that in 2030 – just over a decade away – the roads will look a lot like they do now, with the bulk of traffic consisting of people in cars that they control with these things called “steering wheels.” The difference will be that self-drivers will be pretty far along the path of learning how to interact with cars and trucks in the advanced stages of autonomy. The Age of Autonomy will truly begin when we reach a point where robot cars “get us” and we get them. 

When it finally arrives, it’s going to be a great thing. 

That may sound surprising coming from a guy who adores vintage cars. But there is no question that the coming wave of driverless and electric vehicles will save lives, cut emissions, make commuting easier and help unclog city centers.  

Even better, and perhaps ironically, I think they will also help more people rediscover the joy of driving. You may have noticed that the average daily U.S. commute – more than 50 miles roundtrip, according to the Census Bureau – has sucked the joy out of driving for many.

When robots do the driving and eliminate the hassle and fatigue out of getting from Point A to Point B, I suspect we’ll see a return to motoring for motoring’s sake. Road trips will become cool and fun again. A hunger for driving for escape and a sense of disconnecting from our stressed out, overconnected world will increase. More people will seek out older cars specifically because they require human hands on the wheel and a human heart in charge of where it goes. 

In the vintage vehicle world, we’re already seeing a sharp increase of interest by younger generations. Gen Xers and Millennials supposedly were not “as into” cars as Baby Boomers. And yet, suddenly, they are the rising force in the enthusiast vehicle market. 

Their tastes are different, of course. They love muscle, like all generations. Speed never goes out of style. But they also have a distinct fondness for the pickups and SUVs of their youth, meaning a rise in values for ‘80s and ‘90s models. 

They’re also a bit different in what they like to do with their cars and trucks. Yes, they love showing them off at Cars & Caffeine events, same as it ever was. But we’re also seeing a distinct uptick in things like track days, autocross and road rallies. We expect the trend toward motorsports to continue. 

By 2030, we also expect that we’ll see the first Gen Zers (born 1995-2015) start to make their mark on the hobby. Car love endures. 

In fact, in many ways, the Age of Autonomy could turn out to be a Golden Age for driving and for the enthusiast vehicle community.

Life is funny that way, isn’t it?  

 

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