Take a ride down the stretch of highway past your local auto dealers and you’re bound to see rows of unwanted new and used SUVs clogging the lots. Yesterday’s darlings of automotive indulgence are today’s pariah. But could they be tomorrow’s hotly sought after collectibles?
Dealers are slashing prices to move SUV inventory, and there’s been an unprecedented drop in value. While a good number of Americans still love their big SUVs, the sheer cost of filling the tank has eroded the enthusiasm of many.
For some folks, however, the drop in SUV prices has created a buying opportunity. For those with financial resources, the cost of gasoline is a minor expense and the current fire sale represents a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Carpe diem. It’s time to stock up and save.
The present confluence of events is not without precedent. In the 1960s through early 1970s, American automakers milked the cash cow of the muscle car boom (as they’ve done with SUVs in this past decade or so). From the dawn of the groundbreaking Ford Mustang and Pontiac GTO, through the heydays of the Chevy Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Plymouth Barracuda, and other brawny beasts, America was smitten with speed.
Alas, it was not to last. As the 1970s progressed, the golden age of horsepower drew to an end as musclecars came under attack from an array of market forces:
- Insurance companies, flush with actuarial data shown to prove the increased risk of high-horsepower vehicles, raised the rates they charged to insure the big V-8 engined cars.
- Emission laws were enacted on the state and federal level choking free-breathing powerplants with anti-smog devices.
- Gas crises struck the final blow. By the mid-1970s, the great musclecar boom was over. Detroit all but stopped selling new performance-oriented cars and the resale market cratered.
On the plus side, the late 1970s was a great time to be a teenager … A veritable smorgasbord of used muscle cars could be had at bargain prices. The high-horsepower buffet was open and the faithful loaded up their plates, getting in while the getting was good (and cheap).
MPG-O-Editor’s Note: I bought my first 1966 Pontiac GTO convertible in 1977 for $800 in the months before I got my drivers license. It was an original owner car, with the original (rebuilt) engine, and a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission. When the opportunity to buy another ’66 GTO rag top presented itself a year later, I seized the day and spent a whopping $350 on a four-speed Tri-Power car in dire need of a paint job. (I had to sell the first car to finance the paint and other goodies I poured into the second. I can’t tell you what these cars would be worth today. Needless to say, it breaks my heart thinking that I let both of these beauties go for a song and a dance.)
When looking at what’s happening in today’s used SUV market, it’s easy to draw parallels. Muscle car prices cratered in the 1970s, then exploded when gas became cheap and the boomers acquired the funds they needed to restore the cars of their youth.
The same phenomena just might happen for big SUVs, albeit in a different manner.
The mass of unsold SUVs will find their market. Right now, prime examples of the species are shipped abroad where gas is cheap, while older, less desirable models are scrapped at an increasing rate.
This attrition stands to bring the psychological aspect of scarcity into play, at the same time that the aftermarket solves the problems that vex the automakers … what to do with our rolling stock.
Make no mistake about it. This is a problem that will be solved by the aftermarket.
In the coming years, the stage will be set for conversion garages to transform the biggest gas-guzzlers into plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) (like the HEVT F-150) or clean-diesel powered vehicles. The transition of today’s unwanted rolling stock into the fleet of tomorrow presents a tremendous opportunity for those willing to roll the dice with retrofit technology and place a crucial bet on this country’s future.