8 February 2016

Hagerty's Response: “Should I give up my love of classic cars for electric ones?” #TuesdaysWithBill

Recently, Bill Nye wrote a blog post about how NASCAR should go electric and embrace the future rather than sanctioning racing that people actually want to watch. Now, he has upped the ante by responding to a fan asking about classic cars, future technology, and how they fit together.

The fan, Elijah Bender’s specific questions were:

Do you think, in the future, building classic cars and performance engines will be something that we just have to give up? Or is there hope for gearheads like me who also want to be environmentally responsible? Are things like ethanol and other biofuels viable options?

Nye’s answer presents an interesting perspective—an admittedly purely objective one, and there may be truth to it on a simply quantitative basis. HOWEVER, if he were right in every sense, we’d all be driving cars built in 2015 and every last ’65 Mustang would’ve long since been recycled or crushed. Setting aside electric cars for a moment, all other cars in fact, and I think every single person can agree that the 2016 Mustang is better than the ‘65 version in every single measurable way.

But, that gets to the heart of it—people still like to grill even though microwaves exist, people buy vinyl records despite access to millions of digital albums, and people still drive cars from before the turn of the LAST century. And that speaks to something that can’t be quantified—emotion. Whether right or wrong, people aren’t rational. And while the Tesla might be a vastly better experience quantitatively, there are those who think it pales qualitatively.

Furthermore, the Tesla Model S, while a convenient, high-performance example, is too expensive for most people, leaving a handful of poorly performing also-rans in every meaningful, numerical comparison save fuel efficiency and smugness.

And that’s where “The Science Guy” missed the point of Mr. Bender’s question. And while I’m not an engineer, I believe heartily in the future of electric cars too—to a point. They’re great for commuters and should be embraced; however, asking people to abandon cars used specifically for the experience they provide for a different experience is optimistically absurd.

To answer your question Elijah, no, people will not have to simply stop building classics and working on engines. Their use may be governmentally curtailed or limited in some way, but ensuring that the collector car hobby thrives is our responsibility. All of us. And that includes acknowledging that alternative power sources are the future, while recognizing that a Nissan Leaf provides a vastly different experience from a Mustang with a V-8.

20 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Robert Houston February 10, 2016 at 16:04
    In the future, the flux capacitor will become a key component in tuning up a Tesla, just like intakes, cams, and headers are now to the I.C. engine. We will all still get along.
  • 2
    Jerry Oliver Olympia, WA February 10, 2016 at 16:47
    It may be, in 50 to 100 years from now, the current Tesla will be the Ferrari of today in the collector car market. For now, cars of past eras are driven for fun. Like horses, they serve as pleasure over function. Can a 1910 car be driven as a daily transport? Probably, but it would be uncomfortable, unsafe in modern conditions, and likely expensive. But there many cars that are 30 or 40 years old that aren’t part of anyone’s collection, but a means to get from home to work. The gasoline engine will around for a very long time. As to owning gasoline powered collector cars, the responsible solution to curbing the impact of ground transportation on the environment is to split the difference. I own a 5 collector cars and a Volt. If I choose, I can drive the Volt any length of trip by purchasing gasoline. And, I can use electricity 85% of the time, during my 26 mile round trip commute. The total mileage on my collector cars is a tiny fraction of my total miles annually. Will car collectors of the future lust after the electric car they always wanted and couldn’t afford as a young person? Very likely, and the current gasoline powered cars will be held by only a small number of enthusiast. Nothing is more consistent than change. But it is unlikely I’ll be giving up the top down feeling of my British roadster or hearing the roar of its engine, any time soon.
  • 3
    Tim Pilkington Denver, CO February 10, 2016 at 16:51
    This gentlemen is correct and the more important question to ask Bill Nye is how he feels about driving a coal powered car. Because let's remember that in order for an electric car to work it must be plugged in to receive energy from a fossil fuel power plant. Bill Nye the hypocrite guy.
  • 4
    OCULUS Albany, NY February 10, 2016 at 18:09
    For more than 40 years, I have driven high-performance BMWs, the last 30 in raging 5 Series sticks. I have also been instrumental in NYS energy policy during this period. Thus, in June 2014 I bought and drive the First i3 BMW in NYS Capital area...and I enjoy it tremendously. Foremost: It is a BMW, e.g. rear-wheel drive, very fast (fastest 0-35mph of ANY BMW), very responsive handling, very efficient (most efficient EV on the market) and exudes superlative high-tech in design and engineering, is very roomy and zips around an urban area far more nimbly than other electric or gasoline powered models. Finally, I'll note one feature that I added--to the rear bumper a "NOT A LIBERAL" sticker--that has gotten me more thumbs-up than the car. And I visit the gas station for my REx supplemental engine about once every 700 miles. So, you can have your Ultimate Driving Machine...and run off a plug too.
  • 5
    JCPVAZ Scottsdale, AZ February 10, 2016 at 18:27
    I have owned classics for years. I've been into cars so long that I have bought new cars which became classics. I also own a new Model S. I don't see this as an either/or proposition. Bother petrol-burning classics and the Model S are fantastic to own, drive and enjoy. My XJ-S is rolling art and so is the Tesla. They don't compete. They offer different sets of experiences. The MS will blow the XJ-S off the road, but there is something to that V12 turbine-like whir and all of the quirks from the 80's like opening the "aux air valve" in summer to adjust idle speed.
  • 6
    Joe Virginia February 10, 2016 at 18:30
    I am both a classic-car owner and environmentalist. Nye is right, for daily driving. We need to move to cleaner energy for transit, while fighting to keep our classics on the roads. Whatever they run, NASCAR bores me. Give me Formula One and that 65 Mustang rather than a 2016, which is mostly a computer on wheels.
  • 7
    William H. Burke, Jr. Ridley Park, Pa. USA February 10, 2016 at 19:17
    That would be the day I buy an electric car. An electric car isn't a car, it's an electric applicance, like a refrigerator. And a car that drives for me? That's eliminates the sheer joy of driving an automobile. You may as well go back to the days when your Mommie pushed you down the street in a baby carriage.
  • 8
    Erik Webster, ny February 10, 2016 at 20:25
    One point people seem to miss is that due to the inefficiency of our electrical distribution system, we have to generate 3 kWh for every 1 kWh used at our home. So the real effect needs to be tripled if you recharge at home. Now if you have PV panels on your roof and generate your own power, now we are getting somewhere.... As an energy engineer I can tell you that our grid could not handle a total electric car fleet. It's not as easy as it seems to go all electric...
  • 9
    Chris Campbell Traverse City, MI February 10, 2016 at 21:16
    Exactly right. The pollution load from collector cars is negligible, as most are driven relatively little and are well maintained. I have the same gripe about the reformulations of spar varnishes that I use on my boat, based on VOC limits. The VOC contribution of varnished mahogany boat parts is vanishingly small. I say to focus on the big targets and accommodate the tiny niches with special needs.
  • 10
    Tor Caroga Lake, NY February 11, 2016 at 16:34
    I too share the passion for collecting old vehicles and wooden boats. I own many vehicles (daily drivers included of which one is a very fuel efficient import) and believe that I am preserving history for the future. Our wooden boat spends its summer at our dock lolling in the lake until we take it out for a relaxing cruise. I've had many an anecdotal discussion with fellow hobbyists and collectors alike. All of us share one common thread; a passion to be different, true enjoyment in the thrill of driving something that isn't bread out of indifference to style, and an understanding that there can be pleasure in sharing knowledge about and for the history of what we have. I have been committed to advocating for collector vehicles for some time. I'm committed to helping reduce our overall carbon footprint, and I am making user decisions that should help our planet thrive long after I'm gone. Yet, many are quick to rush to crush these carbon-snorting fossil fuel guzzlers. In reality, collector vehicle owners don't put many miles on their vintage iron, but they do enjoy them. And collector machines aren't the culprits that grind up our highways/byways/waterways, nor are they the big destroyers of our quality of life here on earth. In fact, I would imagine that collector machine owners are far less likely to cause harm to themselves or their "rides." My nephews have grown a real fondness for older iron, in part because I let them "drive" some of our vintage iron. They both own vintage iron now, one of which remains a work in progress. There's nothing quite so humbling as riding shotgun in your old pickup with a young man behind the wheel who is terrified to dump the clutch and look foolish. But after the first stall or two, those smiles never left the faces in the cab.
  • 11
    Brian Tennessee February 11, 2016 at 16:49
    I love the environment, but believe today's electric cars are a horrible solution. The batteries are strip mined (but that's in China, so who cares, right?) and the power comes from coal in most areas. Develop batteries that are chemical rather than rare-metal based, build thorium reactors across the country, and then I'll believe electrics make sense. I think Tesla's are awesome. Just not the panacea to all our woes.
  • 12
    Cash Whitcher Adrian Mi February 11, 2016 at 18:59
    Right On! For people with gasoline running through their veins,nothing can replace the feel of an internal combustion engine ripping through the gears?BTW where does Bill suppose all those KW 's come from for EV's? Well from most US regions it comes from COAL! Hmmmm, now let's add 50 million or so cars on electric,we may as soon revert to original horsepower and destroy our fragile atmosphere with manure oxides!
  • 13
    Mark NC February 11, 2016 at 08:38
    You know it's funny how the environmentalists want to control every aspect of our lives while chipping away at our freedom or whats left of it. Coal power plants are the best and most economical source of energy for America, yet they hate them and want to close all of them down while causing our power bills to escalate. All of all the electric cars that they think are so great for the environment are ran from the energy produced from coal. Recharged batteries just don't fall from the sky. Its time for us to wake up and see that this is just another way to control our way of life.
  • 14
    Richard Kovacs Strongsville, Ohio February 11, 2016 at 08:51
    My buddy and I own a nice 1956 Olds 98 that we bought for nostalgic purposes to drive and attend local car shows and cruise-ins. We didn't buy it as an investment. My buddy also owns a Chevy Volt, which he loves driving. If we still own the 98 when gasoline and substitute fuels aren't available -- highly unlikely in our lifetimes -- we'll convert it to electric... just like giys who can't get a 324 V8 anymore can shove a 455 under the hood. Of course, powering a 2 ton monster with electricity may demand further improvements in battery output to weight ratio!
  • 15
    ferd the cloud February 11, 2016 at 10:36
    "something that can’t be quantified—emotion. Whether right or wrong, people aren’t rational" Well he got that part right - and provides a good example (himself). Mr. Gilad did not provide much of Mr. Nye's actual answer, and sounds like he jumped on a snippet that he could then exploit and misrepresent. "NASCAR should go electric and embrace the future rather than sanctioning racing that people actually want to watch" I agree that switching to electric cars would alienate most of NASCAR's fans. But if you look at the long downward trends of NASCAR race attendance and TV ratings, it looks like NASCAR is already struggling to provide racing that people actually want to watch. “if he (Nye) were right in every sense, we’d all be driving cars built in 2015 and every last ’65 Mustang would’ve long since been recycled or crushed” Did Nye really say that, or did you assume that’s what he meant? Decades of EPA and other government legislation have not forced people to crush their old cars – even though every time new legislation is passed the doomsayers predict “this is the end”. Public opinion has not allowed it, and won’t unless car collecting becomes unpopular. Non-hobbyists tolerate hobbyists just fine until those hobbyists become too obnoxious. Twisting and then berating other’s words is one way to become obnoxious and likely to hurt your own cause. “I think every single person can agree that the 2016 Mustang is better than the ‘65 version in every single measurable way” Bad assumption. I can find lots of Mustang lovers who prefer the 1965 version over the 2016 version. Remember, even you say people aren’t rational. “Tesla Model S, while a convenient, high-performance example, is too expensive for most people, leaving a handful of poorly performing also-rans in every meaningful, numerical comparison save fuel efficiency and smugness” Not that there aren’t a lot of gasoline powered cars that are also too expensive for most people. And that the affordable gasoline cars perform poorly compared to them. Using your logic, anything that can’t stand up to a Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita should be trivialized and maligned. And about that smugness accusation – that may be true with some electric vehicle drivers, but not all – just as there are some smug drivers of muscle cars (“I have more horsepower than you…”). I don’t allow a few bad apples spoil the whole barrel – do you? “asking people to abandon cars used specifically for the experience they provide for a different experience is optimistically absurd” I heartily agree, and if Mr. Nye actually said that then he should be argued. But that attitude applies equally to electric cars. If people enjoy the electric car experience then that’s their prerogative. Have you ever driven a performance electric car like a Tesla? If you’ve only driven cars like the Nissan Leaf, then assuming all electric cars are like that is the same thing as saying “I drove a Toyota Yaris and found it “blah”, so all gasoline cars must be “blah”. “people will not have to simply stop building classics and working on engines. Their use may be governmentally curtailed or limited in some way, but ensuring that the collector car hobby thrives is our responsibility. All of us. And that includes acknowledging that alternative power sources are the future, while recognizing that a Nissan Leaf provides a vastly different experience from a Mustang with a V-8.” I heartily agree! And am amazed you end with this, after spending the rest of your blog to say the opposite. Changes and the future are coming whether we like it or not. But it doesn’t necessarily mean the sudden end of technologies that we already like.
  • 16
    Helseventies Usa February 11, 2016 at 11:12
    I own a viper and use a Nissan leaf as a commuter. I also owned a Chevy Volt. I still have the first Porsche I bought 20 years ago. I tell myself that my fleet of cars average 70mpg, I get to be an environmentally conscious car lover.
  • 17
    Jane Texas February 12, 2016 at 17:34
    When the last drop of gasoline is gone from the planet, I just may consider an electric car. My 1989 Buick Riveria gets 26.5-32 miles per gallon, and I think most cars could be built to do the same.
  • 18
    Tony California February 12, 2016 at 19:22
    I'll gladly drive an electric or hybrid, when both the price to purchase and the performance are equivalent to what I want and need... Tried to by a Camry Hybrid for my wife, but all they had were the upper-end models available. Even IF they had the more modest ones, they were thousands more... But regardless, I would never sell my classics just because someone else thinks it would be better for the world...
  • 19
    David M Brooks United States February 13, 2016 at 09:07
    Classic cars are like music very subjective and a matter of preference. I am and always will be a car guy, and if you understand that term then you know where I'm coming from. My grandfather, father me and now my son own Classics. I have two old convertibles and he has a 70 Nova. I am so happy when he and I get to go to shows together, its all about the experience not so much the cars. We car guys will adopt to changing times for our daily drivers but we never give up our Classics!!
  • 20
    Lawrence Crandall Bumpass, Virgina February 19, 2016 at 17:44
    Amazing how misinformed folks are and out of touch reality. Google coal fired energy plant and notice they are going the way of the dinosaur between federal regulations regulating them out of existence and this nation being the world's number one natural gas producer. Love or hate electric cars but don't go blaming coal as the alternative polluter....

Join the Discussion