Why the ban on new petrol and diesel engines won’t be the death knell for classic cars

In November 2020 the UK Government brought forward the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030. This sent shock waves around the classic car and automotive industry as people suddenly realised that we were in the last decade of vehicular combustion engine production. Quite naturally, people began to think about how long petrol would remain on sale, about tighter emissions controls and if combustion engine cars would one day soon be legislated off the road entirely.

All legitimate fears, but here are 4 of our thoughts about why classic cars and the classic car industry will continue to thrive long into the future.

1. Scale and value – the UK classic car industry are bigger than you might think

There are around 1.6 million classic cars on the road in the UK. The classic car industry is worth around 18.3 billion a year and delivers around 3 billion in tax revenues for the Government. As a comparison the UK music industry is worth around 6 billion. The classic car industry employs over 100,000 people and of that amount around 70% are deemed to be skilled workers earning well above the average UK salary. In short, the UK classic car industry is not what we might think, a small cottage industry but in fact a large player in the UK economy. It should have the scale to pressure Government to make concessions – the formation of the Historic and Classic Vehicles Alliance (HCVA) in May 2021 is just one sign of how the classic car industry is gearing up to meet the challenges of potential negative legislative restrictions.

2. The world won’t only be electric – petrol isn’t going away

It would be easy to think that worldwide investment on future engine technology is exclusively focussed on electric power. The truth is that many automobile manufacturers of both petrol and electric cars are investing billions in synthetic fuel technology. It’s a complex technology that combines CO2 with Hydrogen to create a fuel that when burnt is Carbon neutral. Why are they doing this? Because there are many challenges still to overcome in moving towards an electric future: recycling batteries at the end of an electric car’s life is expensive, true carbon neutrality for electric cars will only occur with larger scale, more efficient and widespread recycling that does not yet exist.  Electric engines and batteries use enormous amounts of scare resources that are often mined in places that are, shall we say, politically sensitive. The big manufacturers are simply not putting all their eggs in one basket.

3. Limiting petrol sales? – legislation will be slow and tackle the big polluters first

Ok, in 9 years’ time you won’t be able to buy a new petrol car. But in 8 years’ time you still could, add to the 9 year figure the 8 to 12 years of a cars lifespan and you are looking at a date of around 2041 before petrol is possibly outlawed.And when the time comes to limit petrol supply it will likely focus on the biggest polluters first. A typical UK classic car travels about 1,200 miles a year. That means its emissions are about a sixth of a normal car. As an example, the haulage industry is likely to be restricted long before measures are taken against classic car usage. The date of 2041 also allows us another 20 years of innovation in synthetic fuel development – who can tell what will exist by then – it’s likely that legislation and control may not even be needed.

4. Classic car use is not dying out but thriving – Millennials and Generation Z lead the way

10 years ago people were worried that the typical 60+ owners of a classic cars would grow old and die and industry would die out with them. Back then classic cars really did seem only for older, wealthier people but today they are certainly not. Whilst someone in their 60s might still lust over an E-type we see lots of people in their 30s who want to buy a 1990s BMW. The attractiveness of these young timers (cars from the 1980s and 1990s) has grown massively recently.

Younger people clearly consider retro as a desirable lifestyle category and Millennials and Generation Z flock to the Goodwood revival which year on year is less about grey hair and only expensive cars. The past and now even the recent past is cool. 2 years ago, the average age of our customers was 50+ today its 40+ and dropping. Couple this trend with a generation of people who don’t trust banks, have never known high rates of interest on savings and view alternative investments as just a normal part of saving and you can see why classic cars are seen as attractive items to invest in and enjoy. Love or loath them Generation Z is shaping up to be an unlikely saviour of the classic car industry.