We just lived through one the biggest weekends of the year for the classic and collector car world, and it has me wondering — what is the future of old cars?
On the West Coast, the rich and fabulous gathered on the Monterey Peninsula for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the culmination of Monterey Car Week. The annual event, first held in 1950, has been the premier car show in the United States for decades. Pebble, as the in-crowd calls it, is the anchor for a week of high-end car auctions, specialty brand shows, exotic car reveals, historic car racing and society gatherings.
In my hometown of Detroit, a grassroots event takes over the streets as the Woodward Dream Cruise paddles down the main drag. Billed as “the world’s largest one-day automotive event, drawing 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars each year from around the globe,” the Woodward Dream Cruise is the coolest traffic jam you’ve ever seen, and has been clogging traffic every year since 1995.
Even with all this interest and support from high and low places, I fear for the collector car hobby, because in the changing world of mobility and the approach of autonomous vehicles, collector cars and their owners may find themselves crowded out, or even forced to private courses, garages and museums. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. But it’s a distinct possibility, and it could happen sooner than the collector car community expects.
Two new organizations formed this year have fueled my fears.
One is Partners for Autonomous Vehicle Education (PAVE), which was announced at CES this year. According to the organization’s website, “PAVE is a coalition of industry, nonprofit and academic institutions with one goal: To inform and educate the public and policymakers on the facts regarding automated vehicles so that they can fully participate in shaping the future of our roads and highways.” PAVE members include auto manufacturers, component makers, technology companies, insurance companies, academic institutions, U.S. government agencies, and specialty advocacy groups. Notice anybody missing? Collector car groups don’t have a seat at this table, and don’t get a mention in PAVE’s messaging.
Another organization that has me quaking in my old car’s seat is the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC), a program of the Society of Automotive Engineers(SAE). SAE, Ford, Toyota, General Motors, and Uber ATG are the current members of the AVSC, whose stated goal is to work “together to advance safer testing, development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.” Once again, who’s missing? The members of this coalition have a laser focus on the future and new vehicle technologies.
What does this mean to collector and classic car owners? Deployment of autonomous vehicles would be much easier with a clear path — if there were no incompatible vehicles on the road to get in the way. Dealing with unpredictable pedestrians is proving to be a monumental challenge for autonomous vehicles, but engineers seem to recognize that mobility solutions will have to figure that out. But dealing with incompatible old cars controlled by unpredictable humans might be more easily legislated than engineered. If collector cars were confined to private roads and racetracks, an obstacle to autonomous mobility could be eliminated.
But nobody’s talking about banning collector cars from public roadways, I hear you saying. Not yet, I reply. Nobody’s talking about compatibility, either. And there’s nobody at the table representing the interests of collector cars.
Looking down the road, there will come a point when the incompatibility of collector cars, and furthermore, the current inventory of cars and motorcycles on the road, will have to be addressed, and the solutions will not be to everyone’s liking. Don’t expect the auto manufacturers to come to the defense of your trusty 2010 Corolla. They’ve already spent the money that you gave them for that. They want your future paychecks for the future of mobility.
Let me be clear: I’m excited about autonomous vehicles, and the amazing technology that will bring revolutionary change to our mobility lifestyles. But, in the immortal words of the great funk band War: Why can’t we be friends?