After Ford, Jaguar, Volvo, Mini, it’s Audi’s turn to announce the end of the development of its combustion engines. With the new Euro 7 emission standard, it no longer seems profitable for manufacturers to invest in these technologies. For some manufacturers, such as Mini, the change of course is clearly assumed, with a total abandonment of internal combustion engines over 2025-30. Audi will continue to sell gasoline-powered cars outside Europe. But the end is in sight for the technology that changed the world. For new cars, it will be necessary to convert to electric, willingly or not. But what about classic cars?
Automobile pollution, a controversy that affects oldtimers
The European regulator does not attach much importance to classic cars. It generally leaves it to the member states to define specific regulations for vehicles over 30 years old. Thus, the new standards will not, in principle, affect the compliance of older technologies. Yet, several politicians are blaming classic cars for environmental reasons. Some municipalities in Europe have already banned the use of vintage vehicles. In France, the Mobility Orientation Law (LOM) allows hence to ban classic cars in large urban areas.
In this context, the disappearance of modern gasoline-powered cars should further increase the pressure on vintage car enthusiasts. Ecological prejudices could be reinforced, as the backfiring engines of old cars contrast strongly with odorless and silent electric cars.
A likely increase in the cost of maintenance and use of classic cars
To this bad reputation, we must also add an effect on costs. Cost of use of course. Gasoline is an accessible and abundant commodity today because it is consumed on a large scale. Its future will become more and more uncertain with the electrification of the car fleet. Gas stations should, logically, be scarcer. And this scarcity could lead to an increase in the cost of gasoline.
Maintenance costs. History has shown how changes in technology affect the availability of spare parts and skills for older technologies. The change from carburetion to fuel injection was accompanied by higher costs for carburetor maintenance. Many mechanics, especially of the younger generation, are unable to repair yesterday’s carburetion systems. It is easy to imagine that the petrol engines, especially the more original and complex ones, will become real headaches for the future generations of garage owners trained in all-electricity.
Similarly, spare parts manufacturers will have to adapt to the evolution of the market. Internal combustion engines will become secondary in the order of priorities. And it is a whole part of the manufacturing know-how necessary for our classic cars that will disappear.
Towards the generalization of retrofit?
In this rather gloomy context, there are some promising avenues for the future of our cars. Retrofitting – or electrification of vintage cars – seems to offer good prospects. It is already a strong trend for many collectors and for some entrepreneurs who offer them the possibility of converting mythical models such as the Citroen DS or the VW Beetle to electric motorization. European governments are supporting this phenomenon by authorizing the transformations of classic cars, under precise conditions.
The fact remains that the mechanical beauty of an old car lies in its engine. The idea of having to give up the most beautiful engines of the past is saddening. Some will point out that it is always possible to store these beautiful mechanics and that retrofitting does not necessarily forbid a return to combustion engines. But the fact is that the abandonment of combustion engines sounds the death knell of an era and a certain freedom that vintage cars embody. Faced with the temptation of a uniform and dispassionate world, we shall not give up…and keep loving our beautiful (dirty) cars.