When most people think of collectible cars they might conjure images of vintage European convertibles, or the Corvettes and Mustangs they coveted as youth. But electrified vehicles are collectible too.
For instance, Bonhams auctioned a 1916 Owen Magnetic Tourer last month that brought in an impressive $128,800 once the gavel fell. That’s a hefty price, but the Owen is a special vehicle – it used a series hybrid system (like the recent Chevy Volt) wherein an internal combustion engine powers a battery.
Most early electric vehicles don’t bring in six-figures, but they still pique the interest of collectors. That’s because long-gone brands, such as Detroit Electric and Rauch & Lang Electric, made some fine cars in the early 20th century. “Electric cars had fewer moving parts and were generally more reliable than gas vehicles,” said Steve Linden, founder of Specialized Vintage Vehicle Services, an antique car appraisal company. “Plus they were easier to use since you didn’t have to shift gears, use a clutch or need to start the motor with a hand crank, as on early gas-powered cars… Original electric cars were revolutionary in their day, just as modern electric cars are revolutionary in ours.”
But what about modern electrified vehicles? Hybrids and EVs have been an increasing presence on our roads over the last two decades. Which of them might be collectible some day? Ride interviewed experts in the collector car market to find out which modern-day electrified vehicles could someday rise in value.
We did not look at cars that approach or exceed the million dollar mark, because few of our readers are landed gentry (we like you, anyway). Thus, the Audi R8 e-tron, Ferrari LaFerrari, Koenigsegg Regera, and McLaren P1 are excluded here; as is the Porsche 918 Spyder (a relative bargain at $845,000 when it was first sold in 2014).
We are also exempting the groundbreaking General Motors EV1 of 1996-1999. Though spectacularly advanced for its day and familiar to most readers, the sleek two-seater was only available to lease, not purchase, and GM infamously destroyed the vast majority after reclaiming them from consumers. The handful that remain are effectively priceless since they don’t come up for sale on the open market.
No. We focus here on electrified cars meant for relatively mainstream consumers that have a good chance of achieving collectibility. Some of these are still extremely premium vehicles – the Acura NSX, for instance, is currently on sale new starting at $157,500 – but they’re accessible to the middle class and working rich.
There are a number of factors that make cars (and trucks… and motorcycles) collectible.
First is historical importance – vehicles that showcase a brand-new technology or material get collectors excited. As do those that raise the bar on consumer expectations through speed, luxury or build quality. Rarity is another big factor – as with any resource, the harder it is to find, the more it’s valued. Finally, raw aesthetic appeal always helps.
So, with these factors in mind, let’s look at some likely future collectibles.
Acura NSX (2017-Present)
The original NSX, introduced for the 1991 model year, showed that exotic supercars can be reliable enough for everyday use. Clean ones attract investor interest, and a particularly low-mileage 1994 example recently sold for $156,000 with fees.
That bodes well for the new NSX, which was introduced for the 2017 model year as an all-wheel drive hybrid pairing a twin-turbo gasoline engine with three electric motors. The modern car can reach 60 in about 3 seconds, and tops out at 191 mph, which would shame its forebear. Of course the new car puts out 573 horsepower, more than twice the power of the original NSX.
Though far more complex and potent than the original, the new NSX maintains its spirit… it is a world-class supercar that can be driven every day.
BMW i8 (2014-Present)
The i8 is one of the first high-end plug-in hybrids. Available as a 2+2 coupe or two-passenger convertible, the i8 has near-perfect weight distribution and cool butterfly doors. The newest versions have 369 horsepower from a lithium-ion battery pack and 3-cylinder gas engine and only need about 4 seconds to reach 60 mph.
While BMW is a premium brand, it generally sticks to mainstream cars, crossovers and motorcycles. The exotics that it does sometimes build – such as the legendary 1978-1981 M1 coupe and 2000-2003 Z8 convertible – bring in serious money at auction. Given time, it would not be surprising to see the extremely pretty i8 follow suit.
Cadillac ELR (2014 and 2016)
Though Cadillac produced a hybrid version of its Escalade SUV from 2008 to 2013, the ELR was its first hybrid car and remains the storied brand’s only dedicated electrified vehicle, without any conventional gasoline-powered counterpart. It is also the rarest modern-day Cadillac, with fewer than 3000 sold.
Cadillac only produced the ELR for two years – 2014 and 2016, skipping 2015. It is a series hybrid based on the Chevrolet Volt, but featured more power, sleeker styling and a seriously luxurious 2+2 interior awash in leather, wood and carbon fiber. The 2016 edition is rarer than the 2014, and thus more collectible. It’s also faster than the initial model, as horsepower increased from 217 to 233. Both the 2014 and 2016 featured nearly 40 miles of electric-only driving range. “Rarity and sexy looks are good attributes for collector cars to have,” said Terry McGean, the editor-in-chief of Hemmings Motor News. “The ELR has a good chance of being collectible some day.”
Fisker Karma (2011-2012)
The Karma was willed into being by legendary designer Henrik Fisher, who’s also responsible for the stunning looks of the BMW Z8, mentioned above. His curvaceous Karma was named Luxury Car of the Year by Top Gear magazine, won Automobile’s Design of the Year Award, and is resplendent with cool details like rooftop solar panels and reclaimed wood trim.
McGean compares the Karma to the legendary Tucker 48, a technologically advanced car created by entrepreneur Preston Tucker after World War II. “Both the Fisker and the Tucker came about from one visionary’s dream,” he said. “Both were meant to be practical, but also fast, and both were very good looking.” Only 51 Tuckers were built before the factory failed, and one recently sold at auction for $1.6 million. The Fisker isn’t as rare, but it’s hardly common – less than 2500 were built, of which 346 were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy while sitting at port.
Investors are attempting to relaunch a heavily revised, but similarly styled version of the Fisker as the Karma Revero from a new plant in California.
Honda Insight (1999-2006)
The original Insight is a historically significant car. It’s the first widely available hybrid consumer vehicle, and at the time of it’s launch was the most efficient car gas-powered car you could buy in the U.S.
The two-seater could get up to 70 miles per gallon, and it was the slipperiest car sold at the time, with a .25 drag coefficient. The Honda’s groundbreaking technology, cute styling and low production numbers (only 17,000 were sold, worldwide) will help its chances of achieving collectibility.
Tesla Roadster (2008-2012)
Collectors prize groundbreaking cars, so the fact that Tesla’s first production car is also the first to use lithium-ion batteries and the first to exceed 200 miles in range all add to its value.
Less than 2,500 were produced, also boosting its desirability. Finally, the Roadster was fun to drive and could hit 60 mph in less than 4 seconds, which is great performance even now, more than a decade after its debut.
“People collect cars they fantasied about as children, the cars they had as posters on their wall, or drew on notebooks,” noted collector car expert Keith Martin, the editor and publisher of Sports Car Market magazine. “That’s why Japanese sports cars from the 80s and 90s are going up in value. The people who dreamt about them in their youth finally have money. I see that potential with the Roadster.”
Toyota Prius (2000-2003)
Though beaten to market by the Honda Insight, this is the first hybrid to achieve widespread sales success in the U.S. The Prius is what comes to mind when many consumers think of hybrids.
“These are quirky vehicles that owners found endearing,” said Martin. “They weren’t exactly rare in their day, but many were destroyed through use. These aren’t luxury cars that people babied. They were rode hard, and put away wet. A good example with low miles will have value some day.”
Volkswagen XL1 (2014)
Volkswagen Group is the largest automaker in the world, but it only sold 200 of this spaceship-like hybrid to the public. The XL1 took a holistic approach to fuel efficiency. It weighed only 1753 pounds thanks to the extensive use of carbon fiber, and cheated the wind with a supremely low drag coefficient of 0.186. These features, paired with an efficient diesel-electric hybrid system allowed for soaring fuel-economy ratings of 313 miles per gallon in European testing (261 mpg according to U.S. standards).
“People speculate on which cars will become collectible, but the XL1 seems like a near guarantee thanks to its rarity and advanced features,” said McGean. “Plus, Volkswagen has extremely dedicated followers, who seek out interesting models that the brand has put out.”