This summer I had the chance to witness part of what makes this industry so great. These two events sparked a couple of interesting thoughts. First, there is no doubt that the American love affair with the automobile continues. And second, the American manufacturers—those same companies that used to dominate—seemed to have missed the next generation of car fanatics. A million-plus people showed up for the highly publicized "Woodward Dream Cruise'" in suburban Detroit to admire the heritage of American automobiles. A few weeks later in the farmlands of northeastern Indiana, three days of classic car action at the eBay/Kruse event attended by tens of thousands of people confirmed that there is still an amazing attraction between Americans and the cars we drive—or, maybe more appropriately, drove.
The Dream Cruise—once a small gathering of classic car lovers—has become a bit over-hyped and commercialized. But even so, the meaning of the event is important. People from literally all over the world came to Detroit to participate—or, maybe better put, relive—the glory days of cruisin' in good old American metal.
The eBay/Kruse action also shows the strong attachment we have with the automobile. While the high dollar bids of a decade ago have softened, there was still some serious bidding going on—over $25-million worth! Although one bidder paid over $800,000 for a 1932 Duesenberg J, there were many more vehicles more modestly priced. 1,500 vehicles went up for bid during the three-day event. What impressed me was the variety and quality of the cars on the block. Although there were several foreign (but few Japanese) cars for sale, most were from U.S. manufacturers—some companies that haven't built a car in decades.
After taking in the two events, it was obvious that the there is still passion for the automobile. The people at these events were not just aging baby-boomers trying to recapture their glory days, but also young people, with a love for great design and a hot ride. Yet I fear the domestic manufacturers are missing the next generation of car lovers. Given the current trend of young car lovers toward "slamming'" little four-cylinder Japanese subcompacts, the classic cars of the future are likely to be very different from those I saw this summer. Does Detroit have what it takes to make it back?
I think this sales downturn of this year may hold an important view of the future. Honda and Toyota have become an integral part of the American automotive fiber. Many wonder how soon it will be before Toyota passes Chrysler as the third largest seller of automobiles in the U.S. Honda has not only captured the middle market with the Accord, its high-revving smooth engines have captured the imagination of many young car tuners. Volks-wagen has gained a reputation for unique styling and good performance.
However, I would argue that, instead of robbing the American car enthusiast of the classic American car, this influx of different ideas may offer an opportunity (or make it essential) for the home boys (and girls) to respond with some great new classics of their own. The Chevrolet SSR and Chrysler Crossfire will likely become instant classics. Maybe the Cadillac edge design theme will turn out to be timeless—or maybe it will be remembered for other reasons. The Chevrolet Avalanche may also be viewed as a product that set a trend—or as a fondly remembered oddity.
The Dream Cruise of 2030 will likely be a fascinating collection with souped-up Chevy's and Ford's, slammed Hondas and tricked-out SUVs. And while the Duesenbergs still may bring the top bid at the eBay/Kruse fall auction that same year, there are sure to be some cars from 30 years earlier that will bring back memories, and yes, even snickers.