Put it in reverse: Auto makers adapt to new interest in old classics

Put it in reverse: Auto makers adapt to new interest in old classics

Progress and innovation are words often associated with the car industry, but more and more companies are now looking in the rearview when it comes to driving their businesses forward.

When we sat shotgun with Doug Schuck, car enthusiast and president of , he took us for a joyride through the open roads of Denver in his classic Pontiac GTO. But even as he powered through the four-speed manual transmission with a punch that would throw a camera in your face, he couldn’t help but take us on a trip down memory lane.

“It brings me back to when I was driving these when they were newer,” he said. “And most of those memories are nothing but good, right? You might remember when you were racing your buddy. You might remember the first time you went out on a date. You might remember your first kiss. Who knows?”

Cars have long been considered a milestone of technological innovation, even when today more and more are reminiscent of the way they may have looked decades ago.

Throughout 2022, the online collector’s auction site  saw a 50% increase in year-over-year sales. By year’s end, over $1.3 billion in transactions flowed through the site, crushing the previous record of $859 million in 2021.

Cars equipped with manual transmissions have also become more popular. In 2021, stick shift enthusiasts comprised less than 1% of the U.S. auto market. By 2022, that number jumped to 1.2%, and sales figures this year indicated that the proportion has risen even further to 1.7%.

It’s meant big business for collector dealerships and major manufacturers as they’ve put the future of their profits in the chassis of their legends.

“The service business has turned out to be absolutely incredible. There’s such a demand to repair these cars,” Schuck said.

Tyson Jominy is the vice president of Data and Analytics for JD Power and he says the reason for this rise is simple: Manufacturers want to ensure their bottom line as their industry transitions into a 

“As EVs come in, they’re very risky propositions that require a very substantial up-front investment in new technology,” Jominy said. “It requires new plants, destroying old plants to make new ones, and so you have all this risk and a great way to offset some of that risk is to apply it to a nameplate model that people are familiar with.”

Ford plans to take the signature roar of its muscle cars and play it through an electric speaker on the outside of the car when it releases its new Charger model next year. It did the same last year  a spin on the best-selling pick-up truck in America for more than four decades.

“I never thought I’d see the day where the 70s cars and the 80s cars would be popular,” Schuck added.

It’s a culture shift that’s injecting a classic feel in a market defined by relentless innovation.

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