How the Cnidarian Drifts in the Sapphire Waters

The Guardian reported that electric cars are cheaper to run than other powertrains. This might have implications other than only cheaper motoring in the near future. 

Not a classic. Image : pistonheads.com

“The researchers analysed the total csot of ownership of cars over four years, inlcuding the purchase price and depreciation, fuel, insurance, taxation and mantinance. They were suprised to find that pure elcectric cars came out cheepest in all the mrakets they examined: UK, Japan, Texas and California,” the Guardian wrote**. Last night I stood in the underground garage where my car is parked and it occurred to me that almost none of the vehicles parked there would be around in a decade.

Furthermore, almost no examples of those models would be around in a decade. The few that survived would be those that were already pretty old today: a Mustang, the XM, a Jensen, a Mk1 Miata the XJ-S and the tatty 928 that has recently joined the gathering of metal.

Not a classic. BMW G30 5 series, photo (c) Autozeitung.de

It’s a rule of thumb that cars don’t acquire classic status until they are about two decades out of production. Of the hundreds of thousands of examples made maybe 0.1% get to be 20 years old (probably less for the likes of the Fiesta, Polo and Clio). In the coming years the shift to electric propulsion will mean an intensification of the reasons older cars become undesirable and almost valueless after production ceases.

It’s likely petrol costs will rise, petrol stations will become fewer in number and regulations aimed at reducing air pollution will militate against even more marginal cars alongside all the other existing reasons an old car depreciates in monetary and utility value.

Now collectible: thinkersgarage.com

I recently scanned the used prices of a few of my favourite imaginary purchases: the Kappa, 604, Trevi and Citroen XM. I found to my surprise that prices were “firming up” to use Willson-speak. These cars are 20 years old or older. Is there a dawning realisation that the supply of older cars is now reaching a new phase where it is becoming apparent that younger cars are not that interesting any more (I can’t think of a lot of collectible 10 years olds that weren’t already very expensive when new).

That fact is related to the point about future classics being fewer in number both absolutely and in terms of models. That means that 20-year plus cars are now looking more desirable than, say, 20-year-old cars looked in 2007 or 1997. The supply of collectible keepers is already dwindling. The news of the economics of electric cars is only adding to that. We might, thus be near peak classic, if not already past it.

I have suspected this for a while – the changing economics of electric car use is the new part to this story. If there was not this shift current cars would still probably be less likely to be collectible anyway (they are less and less interesting). The fact cheaper running will further undermine the attractiveness of an old ICE car adds to this: the cheapness of maintenance and fueling will reduce the extent to which an old car’s cheaper purchase price can offset the higher cost of running an old car.

And presumably used electric cars will still be cheap to run and buy compared to a slightly older petrol cars. It is the used electric cars that will kill the demand for used petrol cars and so reduce the survival rate in the tricky 20 years interim between last production year and incipient classic car status. Of today’s Polos maybe a few hundred will survive in 2030. Maybe almost none.

The question for today is this: would readers like to suggest “ordinary” 2017 cars that will survive this cost crunch to become the classics of 2030? It will be interesting for me (anyway) to see which suggestions are believable and which ones amount to the clutching of straws.

**satire alert.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

26 thoughts on “How the Cnidarian Drifts in the Sapphire Waters”

  1. You can be sure that as soon as electric cars are our standard mobility device taxes on electrical energy for cars will go up to compensate the losses in fuel tax. Intelligent metering and dedicated charging devices will make sure only expensive energy is consumed for cars – or what did we think was the reason for every charging cable having an integral data link? Taxes for electrical energy could (and probably will) be even higher than on fuel because of the savings in maintenance costs as nobody is interested in making ownership of a car any cheaper
    In the end,m electric cars will be made just as expensive to run as conventional ones.

    From the cars currently on offer, there is not a single one I would wand to own, let alone preserve for the future.
    Not even the usual suspects from Italy or Britain have anything on offer that’s interesting.

    1. You are very likely right to say that governments will need and want to transfer to e-cars the tax burden that ICE-cars carry. However, there will be an interim where tax differentials will be used to encourage a switch from ICE. That decade will be where the used petrol/diesel cars will be scrapped in larger-than-usual numbers.
      Personally, I’d like to see society weaned off the “instant access” private transport model. Now is a good time to start. Leave petrol cars to enthusiasts and occasional use by farmers.

    2. By every charging cable do you mean public charge stations or all cables such as the ones supplied with cars. My personal home unit has a sim which initially relayed my habits to the station supplier for research but after five years usage and a relocation that feature has long since been redundant.
      All car cables do communicate for safety and compliance with charge stations but its a closed system not designed for monitoring charges.
      The answer to any future taxing of electricity is to become a net supplier with ones own solar panels however I realise not everyone could do this and that roads have to be maintained so a road mileage charge would be fair. Some States in the U.S are upsetting a lot of early adopters by choosing yearly flat fees which are higher than gas taxes for Ice cars so this is clearly something that needs addressing. I personally think most of this is political and due to backward thinking from present incumbents and will hopefully be corrected at election time.
      Here the UK Government should take a more sensible and measured approach if not I will be adding more panels and a powerwall!

  2. Car collecting will continue, as with other collectibles. I know cigarette cards, old vynil etc demand less space, but I expect there’s even a Fiesta owners club somewhere.

    Nice to see my Kappa’s become collectable; hoping the Lybra, just as well made but doing it all noticeably better, will become so. But not really expecting it.

    As for e-cars, it’ll take time for this to pan out; ecologists are already saying it ignores the environmental costs of production itself, because that (mainly CO2) happens away from the point of use (exhaust emissions).
    And how this dovetails with “unowned” and self-driving cars on demand will be interesting too.
    Tax will be tapered in to achieve the trade-off between incentives and revenue equalisation, as you suggest.

    My only modern nomination would be the current Alfa Giulia — but would anyone be able to drive one in 2030?

    1. It’s interesting that you nominate the Nuova Giulia.
      This and the Jaguar XE were cars I really wanted to like.
      But the Jaguar has too many glitches in attention to detail to be a true contender in its class and as long as Alfa can’t even be bothered to fit a stick shift (let alone a proper, old fashioned, naturally aspirated engine) to the Giulia that’s not a viable proposition for me, either.

      When I think of it, maybe a Lotus Elise could be my nominee. It is free of most of the nonsense that makes today’s cars bland and uninteresting (in particular, there’s no stupid marketing blurb), it looks acceptably good and is fun to drive.

  3. I’ve left out the possible change in attitudes of coming generations. No one can claim to know that, but it’s very possible that under-50s will have different takes on, for example, nostalgia — which has certainly driven much of the car collectors’ market these past 60 years.
    I do expect the appreciation of fine engineering to maintain a large niche, though. Bugattis, Astons and Italian exotica won’t disappear. Maybe the Mini won’t either. Isetta and Messerschmidt bubble cars?

  4. Research over here (Holland) showed that electric cars are 10% more expensive to run than ‘normal’ cars (and that is without having to pay for road tax, which is very high…).

  5. I suggest that the reason that values of cars over twenty years old are in creasing is that these are the last cars made without complex electronic management systems. They can be maintained by mechanics with knowledge and skills rather than by “technicians” with laptops. As the ICE fades from the scene manufacturers will no longer produce updates for management systems nor will they update the software for the diagnostic systems. Ergo only cars with mechanical analog components will have a value.

    The rush to electric vehicles reminds me that we did have government encouragement to buy diesels; what ever happened to that? Electric vehicles certainly do not pollute at point of use but there is certainly pollution associated with the production of electricity, the mining of lithium and rare earths and the eventual disposal of batteries. This all takes place distant from the legislators so is rather glossed over. It would be interesting to see a full environmental impact assessment of electric v ICE cars on a cradle to grave basis. I’m sure someone on DTW can point in the right direction.

    1. Total environmental impacts are not glossed over by scientists, as a well-directed Google will reveal. I made a similar point in my earlier post.

      The electronics issue: basically you’re right. So I was surprised my Kappa is becoming collectable, as it has plenty of (reliable) electronics. My garage which does the diagnostics seems not to need updated software: the onboard kit pinpoints the defective item well. But EFI has been going since the 1970s without any updating needed, mainly because it uses transistors, not chips.

      The larger issue of car overproduction (in Europe at least) is being effectively masked now by makers becoming finance companies selling deals with bits of metal attached. The effect on national employment stats as this unravels will be huge, along with the tidal wave of robotisation etc. Universal basic income looms, but you won’t buy a car with it — and may not need one.

  6. Thank you for the link to a most interesting article Richard. Vic I wasn’t suggesting that scientists glossed over the environmental issues of electric cars but I have less faith in parliamentary legislators. We were encouraged to buy diesels and now we are being discouraged. Here, across the Irish sea, we have the fiasco of the Renewable Heat Incentive. Considerable incomes can be made by installing a wood chip boiler and running 24/7 to heat empty buildings.

    For a modern car to salt away for 20 years why not a BMW X6. It would be a reminder of how gross ICE vehicles had become and contrast nicely with the presumably elegant electric vehicles of 2030

    1. Barry, on diesels the legislators just went on the CO2 emissions, before particulates became a (very important) thing. They’re often slow and sometimes won’t get there at all.

      At least the pellet scheme was an open con on the taxpayer; but that’s the DUP for you.

      X6: surely wait until the bottom’s fallen out of that market, and they’re being scrapped en masse. I personally wouldn’t bother to buy one any time: the pix will constitute damning enough evidence.

      I’d hope the e-cars would be good-looking, but makers seem to be all out of elegance right now. Tolerable might be the best we’ll get.

  7. Current (non-millionaires’) cars that will be classics: Alfa 4C, Mazda MX5, Lotus Evora, any Lexus, Kia Stinger, Toyota Land Cruiser, Porsche Cayman, Honda S660…

  8. All of this is good and well, but a Jensen (model regrettably unspecified) in Denmark!

    Did the owner choose it because the car had the same name as him or herself?

    1. Regarding Holland..
      Is this just for fuel to power the cars? What source for the electricity? What category are the ice vehicles, diesel, or petrol and the size ?
      If indeed the Electrics work out more expensive with equally competitive Ice’s then what of the option of charging them with ones own solar generating station can this be done with petrol or diesel? Yes I realise panels cost but there are other reasons to have them besides car charging and the initial cost is recouped quicker by the savings on home electricity.
      What of savings on maintenance such as brakes, oil changes, filters, exhaust systems, belts ?
      My five year experience has proven to be very much in favour of the electric car in all aspects of economy, convenience and pure driving pleasure.

  9. Difficult to point to any 2017 cars, but I can foresee a few recentish cars with values that will firm up with time:

    Jaguar x350 XJR
    Lotus Elise Series 2 (Toyota engined)
    Vauxhall VX220
    Nissan 350z /370Z
    BMW Z5 Coupe
    BMW E39 5 Series M5
    BMW E60 335D
    Mercedes W219 CLS
    Porsche 981 Boxster / Cayman (IF the cylinder bores and gearboxes hold out)
    Range Rover L322

    1. For such a small country it’s hard to believe anywhere could be MORE than fours hours from Købnhavn.
      Consider: they might mean up to 50km from Købnhavn.
      Importantly, for the car:

      Actual mileage, as mechanical restoration wouldn’t be cheap. Its being on rollers suggests non-runner.
      But the leather doesn’t look high miles.
      The vynil roof can disguise heaps of rust beneath it.
      They’ll take £20k or less.

      Fancy a day shopping down Strojet? Get a taxi, and see a nice car to boot!

  10. “Its being on rollers suggests non-runner” not necessarily its a very convenient way to move cars around into spots even a runner couldn’t go into.

  11. Vic – the 541 body is GRP. The vinyl roof is more likely disguising a delaminating gel coat.

    Plenty of steel underneath to rot out.

    In a spirit of positivity, here’s the story of Donald Healey’s very personalised 541:

    http://www.jensenmuseum.org/jensen-541s-v8-donald-healey-special/

    The sort of man they don’t seem to make any more. A sort of Cornish Bob Lutz – a pity he wasn’t put in charge of post-Len Lord BMC, rather than Hopeless Harriman.

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