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Rare Cars and an electric future?

Manufacturers from Bentley to Jaguar to Mini are telling us to buy now if we want a combustion engine, but is this just a new sales pitch to move cars with ever growing price tags?

MINI John Cooper Works Silver

The year might be 2040, it could be 2035, or if you have a leader without a plan, it might be 2030. These are headline-grabbing deadline years for the sale of combustion engine vehicles and politicians have basked in the radiant light of environmental virtue while announcing them. Manufacturers, having heard and seen all of this (and no doubt watching the stock price of a particular American car company) have dived in for a win-win that must have sounded so good at the board meeting a private jet was chartered to fly in champagne.

That win-win is not only being able to join in with the environmental campaign and flip their public image from exhaust puffers to clean lean green machines but make an avalanche of profit in the meantime.

Jaguar is one particular example, not wishing to sound like the transport of old smoking jackets a day longer, they called the British government's very optimistic 2030 deadline and raised them, 2025 would be the year they begin only selling electric cars. In the meantime, if you want a fast Jag with thumbing supercharged V8, or a spritely six-cylinder, or even a raucous four-pot, your better rush to your local dealer with deposit in hand this very minute...

Except for one problem, and to be clear Jaguar is certainly not the only culprit of clever wording here. If you want a V8 in 2026 with a big cat on the badge, you will almost certainly be able to buy one. What Jaguar and many other manufacturers mean by electric, is proportional. Some cars will be electric-only, others will be hybrids. Almost every manufacturer is onto this trick. Make the announcement of electric from 2025, and then slide the fine print in afterwards having not mentioned some electric cars will be paired with an internal combustion engine. What they really mean is, no car will be combustion engine only by 2025, doesn't sound as snappy does it. Mercedes have released a similar statement about how all their new cars from 2025 onwards will be electric. What they mean to say is that in 2026 you can still buy a petrol car from their showrooms, but the model would have been released by 2025. Considering the E-Class usually does a seven-year life cycle, that means that it will be still selling petrols in 2030. This is partially manufacturers hedging their bets, and who can blame them, creating enough additional electricity to power all the cars on the roads will take decades, especially as old power plants are shut down for greener solutions. This may mean governments do to electric what they did to diesel, promoting for a decade, and then when a new headline-grabbing technology comes along, turn their backs entirely. As an aside electric cars will not be exempt from the London congestion charge as of 2025, a similar fate happened to hybrids a decade ago. Legacy automakers are no fools, and staking the entire future of your company in the hope of continued government tax breaks and support for your product would be corporate suicide.

In the meantime, manufacturers are playing the second ace card. They have bolstered their stock price and their public support with clear targets that aren't far away. Now time to sell sell sell, and what method should they use, the one that moves metal fastest, rarity.

We've all heard of high auction prices for classic, or contemporary cars that have gained such extraordinary bids because they were rare. Run a Pagani Zonda through an action, doesn't matter which one, it will fetch multiples of its original sale price.

The new tactic from manufacturers is similar to that of shoppers that have been told a petrol shortage might happen, panic buying. Toyota will sell the GR86 in the UK, a celebratory bit of news, especially as early road tests have proven it to be a real improvement on the GT86. It is quite possible this will be the last 'reasonably priced' car ever to be sold from any manufacturer with a naturally aspirated engine, a manual gearbox, and rear-wheel drive. The bad news, the UK will only get a chance to buy it for 2 years. After that it will be gone, now to be fair to Toyota this is partially because of the Euro7 emissions restrictions that will come into force, which seem to be so restrictive that any car that doesn't have a battery in will be washed from the market without some clever engineering. An unlikely redesign for many cars as resources for combustion engines are being diverted at major manufacturers to battery technology.

The other half of the story though is to manufacturer rarity. It's the equivalent of the well-tried sales line 'someone else was looking at it earlier,' it called creating urgency. Occasionally the salesman is telling the truth, one story that stands out was a friend that sold cars years ago. He told the customer he was very interested in the Audi they were looking at after test driving it with them, so interested, that if they didn't buy it, he might. They left telling him they would have a think about it almost laughing at his desperate attempt to force their hand, and were shocked when they turned up the next morning and he told them 'sorry, I bought it last night, a car like that comes once in a blue moon'. They were dumbfounded, and after telling him 'you can't do that' as if it was a crime for a used car salesman to own a car. They left, suddenly realising that the car was actually very special and underpriced as the vast array of optional extras fitted hadn't been added to the spec sheet.

The same story is happening here, manufacturers are creating rarity, this also bolsters margins, negotiating a deal for a new car isn't easy when the seller shrugs off your request for a deal. If you don't buy it now, you'll be having to buy an electric car forevermore, today is your last chance. No doubt this urgency will grow with time, today the chip shortages are creating rarity, but once the supply chain is back together, you can bet buying a sporty car with a combustion engine won't be the same. Two decades ago Citroen gave young drivers free insurance if they bought the hot version of their Saxo. Honda offered money off their Type R and even BMW would talk brass tax to tempt you into an M3. Now the deck is reversed, if you really want to buy a machine that breathes you need to wait, and pay whatever you're asked. It is slightly risky, don't forget that not everyone is binary between electric and combustion power. Many may just say, 'fine I'll buy the electric one then.' It seems sad then that those with a passion for the rumble, the fizz, and the induction roar of an engine are to be the ones most taken advantage of by an industry that has survived for so long on the thick profit margins of the cars the enthusiasts has to own, whether it be a last of run special with a different paint job, or ten extra horsepower to 'celebrate the brand' but at a hefty premium. One thing is for certain, and that is that nothing is certain, and as long as the cars of tomorrow are still a hoot to drive, we can all agree that the party isn't coming to an end.


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