9 electric vehicles that could be the collectibles of the future
Collectibility means different things to different people, but the cars you see on the lawn at Pebble Beach, crossing the block at Amelia Island, or behind rope at a museum tend to tick many of the same boxes. They are often rare, typically beautiful, and occasionally innovative. If they’re historically significant, so much the better.
Say—that sounds a lot like the Tesla Roadster. And the Honda Insight. The Chevrolet Volt, too, if you’re generous in defining “beautiful.” That makes each of them a future collectible. Go ahead. Laugh. Scoff, even. But it’s a safe bet you’ll see alt-fuel cars like these alongside more conventional classics in collections and at concours within 30 or 35 years.
OK naysayers, settle down. No one’s saying EVs and hybrids will one day command Bugatti prices. Hell, they don’t even appear on the Hagerty Valuation Tool (yet). But these cars mark our first steps down the inevitable path to electrification. They are by definition innovative and historically significant. That makes them collectible.
There’s plenty of historical precedent for this. A 1917 Milburn Electric Model 27 Brougham sold for $63,250 in October, and a 1912 Baker Electric Model W Runabout brought $192,500. If something once so prosaic as a 1993 Mazda RX-7 can fetch $50,400, a truly groundbreaking car like the Nissan Leaf will almost surely bring equally big money one day.
“EVs and hybrids will absolutely be collectible in the future,” says John Wiley, a senior data analyst at Hagerty. “In general, aspirational models like the Teslas will lead the way, and milestone cars that represented a key advancement in the technology, performance, or acceptance of the cars (again, like the Teslas) will also be well positioned.”
Before going any further, though, I must first mention the late, great GM EV1. The car that launched the modern EV movement would top any list of future collectibles if General Motors hadn’t crushed most of them for reasons too Byzantine to explain here. Just 40 of the 1117 cars built between 1996 and 1999 survived, and only one, now at the Smithsonian, remains intact. GM disabled the others before donating them to museums and research institutions.
2008-2012 Tesla Roadster
With EV1s now little more than showpieces, Tesla’s first two cars lead the list. The Roadster was the first car from the first successful independent U.S. automaker since Tucker (and the first to go public since Ford did it in 1956.) It was the first mass-produced highway-legal EV to use a lithium-ion battery, and the first to top 200 miles on a charge. It went like hell and still looks great. Those who say the car is just an electrified Elise simply don’t understand the engineering that went into it.
“The Roadster was the first EV that convinced people an EV could be sporty and fast,” says Chelsea Sexton, a longtime advocate for cars with cords and a consultant who has worked with GM, Nissan, and other automakers.
Petersen Automotive Museum curator Leslie Kendall is eager to add a Roadster to the museum’s collection, which already includes an EV1, a Model S chassis, and a Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid along with other alt-fuel cars. “Pioneering vehicles that have superlative engineering and performance,” tend to be collectible, he says. “And the Roadster is a sexy little coupe. It’s low-slung and blindingly fast and very fun to thrash, I’m told.”
Tesla sold just 2450 Roadsters between 2008 and 2012, making it as rare as cooperation in Congress. A low-mileage 2010 Sport model recently sold for $93,500 at Barrett-Jackson’s 2019 Scottsdale auction. Insurance quotes for the Roadster ticked up among Gen-X buyers last year but fell 12 percent overall between 2017 and 2018. The average quote for a Roadster fell 1 percent to $68,000 but someone in LA quoted one at a cool $1 million last year. No, it wasn’t Elon.
2012-Present Tesla Model S
And then there’s the Model S, which made everything about the Roadster just a little better and a lot bigger. If the EV1 opened the door for electric vehicles, the Roadster gave it a good shove before the Model S kicked it down.
“The Model S was the first ‘beautiful’ EV and large enough to appeal beyond the most niche of markets,” said Sexton.
Indeed. Hagerty quotes show Teslas are most popular among the Gen-X set, followed by Boomers and Millennials. Insurance quotes for the S are up, as you’d expect given that Tesla still builds that model.
2001-2003 Toyota Prius (first generation)
No one’s ever described the Toyota Prius as fun to thrash, but the world’s first (and most successful) mass-market hybrid all but pioneered a new way of propelling cars. (Yes, yes, Porsche did it first.) “I’d love a first-year Prius,” Kendall says. For now, though, buyers favor the more-popular second-gen model, if Hagerty insurance quotes are any indication. The car is most popular among Millennials, and the average quote climbed 7 percent to $6130 between 2017 and 2018.
2000-2006 Honda Insight (first generation)
To be fair, the first-gen Honda Insight also gets a place on the list. The car, which saw quotes fall 12 percent to $4879 last year, was the first hybrid sold in the U.S., one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles in history and, at the time, the most aerodynamic car ever made. “Technical virtuosity is another thing that makes a car collectible,” Kendall says.
2011-2015 Chevrolet Volt (first generation)
Ah. Well, add the Chevrolet Volt to the list, then. The plug-in hybrid, which Bob Lutz once called a “moonshot,” was GM’s attempt to prove Japan didn’t have a lock on innovation. The car was by any measure a technological marvel, one that combined the benefits of electricity with the range of gasoline to create a car unlike anything anyone had seen before. “Serious automotive museums will want one,” Kendall says.
2010-2017 Nissan Leaf (first generation)
Ditto the Nissan Leaf, which, is most popular among Generation X. Oh sure, it isn’t as pretty as the Model S, or as sophisticated. But it also isn’t as expensive. That explains why, at more than 400,000 sold worldwide, it is the most successful EV to date. “It has solidly been the ‘people’s car’ of the EV world, an affordable, reliable daily driver for the urban commuting masses,” Sexton says. Oh, sure, go ahead and call it ugly. Ordinary, even. That doesn’t make it any less collectible. After all, a 1968 VW Beetle sold for $33,600 earlier this year, and few cars are so ordinary as a VW Beetle.
2005-2007 BMW Hydrogen 7
Want something a little more unusual? How about the BMW Hydrogen 7, a 760iL with a 6.0-liter V-12 adapted to burn gasoline or hydrogen? BMW built 100 of them between 2005 and 2007 and leased them to high-profile public figures to help sell hydrogen as the fuel of the future. Kendall would love to add one to the Petersen’s collection. “I think the cars that will interesting to people are the cars that were produced in very, very low numbers for testing,” he says.
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive
If this most recent Geneva Motor show is any indication, It might seem like all-electric supercars from upstart brands are growing on trees. Back in 2013, however, Mercedes pumped out a limited run of fewer than 100 all-electric versions of its gullwing-door SLS AMG. With its four electric motors—one positioned at each wheel—the SLS AMG Electric Drive has a total output of 740 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque, as well as a 120-mile all-electric range.
Despite its incredible performance, this EV supercar was never really intended to be much more than a showcase for Mercedes’ development of electrification technology and the AMG F1 team’s battery software advancements. It was way ahead of its time, though, and we wouldn’t be shocked to see Mercedes roll out a new all-electric supercar under its budding EQ nameplate in the near future. This rolling proof of concept, though, should have long-term collector appeal due to its rarity, performance, and place at the top of the Mercedes-Benz electric car family tree.
2015 Audi R8 e-tron
After the SLS Electric Drive, the Audi R8 e-tron took up the limited-production electric supercar mantle. With a twin-motor drivetrain that made 456 horsepower, the car could hit 62 mph in 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. Audi built fewer than 100 examples in 2015 and sold them only in Europe for about $1.1 million apiece. It is by any measure rare, beautiful, and innovative. In other words, everything you want in a collectible car.