Will Early EVs Become Collector Cars Someday?
A few days ago I was leisurely stumbling through the automotive classifieds, searching for cars with unique and interesting stories, when I landed on something I did not expect to see—a 2002 Toyota Rav4 EV. You see, mistakenly I had believed that all of these first-generation Rav4 EVs were rounded up upon their lease turn-in, and scuttled away to the wrecking yard in the sky. I was wrong. Toyota sold a small number back to the public (believed to be 328 cars) of which many still silently roam the California roads. This got me thinking, if there are only 328 original Toyota Rav4 EVs still zipping around public roads, someday that ought to make them quite hard to find. Given that exclusivity often foreshadows collectibility, perhaps these early EVs will one day become collector cars. And that’s the question I’ll pass on to you; what do you think?
By “early” EVs I certainly don’t mean the cars that brought electric vehicles into the spotlight in the early 1900s—of course those are collectible—I’m talking about the cars that brought about the EV resurgence following the oil crises and vehicle emissions snarls of the 1970s and ‘80s. Cars like this forerunning Rav4 EV, as well as other early models such as the Chrysler TEVan, GM EV1, Ford Ranger Electric, Chevrolet S10 EV, and the Honda EV Plus.
What these vehicles all share (besides their all-electric powertrains) is a common thread that leads back to the state of California and its Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, which forces large volume automakers to sell a certain percentage of EVs in the state. Of its own accord, this program has pushed EV regulation now to nine additional states, but it’s also carved out a unique (though small) niche for these early EVs.
As mentioned before, exclusivity often leads to collectability… especially given that some of these cars were rounded up and collected at the end of their leases (and crushed). Here’s looking at you, GM EV1. Still have one? Better hold onto it.
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But there’s more than just exclusivity to make these “early EVs” a hot ticket collectors item one day. Think about other vehicles that define a moment in time—the original Ford Mustang, the C1 and C2 Corvettes, the early Porsche 911 Turbos, fourth-gen Toyota Supras, and Ford Broncos, among many others.
It’s a bit of a stretch to put an electrified Rav4 in that same category as such icons, but these vehicles have undeniably opened the door for a new wave of vehicles, most notably those of Tesla, the 800 pound gorilla of today’s electric auto industry, which actually had a hand in building the second-generation Rav4 EVs.
If there is an early EV that's genuinely guaranteed to be a collector car, it’s Tesla’s first outing—the rarified Tesla Roadster. Just 2,500 were ever built and seeing as how the Tesla empire has grown since, at some point these will likely be fiercely, fiercely sought after.
Looking down the road a bit, Tesla has also introduced a rather unique mix-up to the notion of collector cars—the rolling update. When Tesla Motors is ready to update its Model S or Model X, it just does. No need to wait for a new model year, in a day’s time, all new cars will simply feature that new tech. This opens the door for high levels of exclusivity. Imagine having one of just 10 Tesla Model S P85D sedans with a highly unusual equipment configuration between updates. This is of course just a hypothetical example, but a potential one if the pace of rolling updates accelerates.
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There is one inherent stumbling block for EV collectability, and it has nothing to do with the cars themselves, but instead our perception. A stigma. I was chatting with an industry analyst recently who raised this point, “no one goes to the store looking to buy used batteries, many people share that same attitude when it comes to buying a second-hand electric car.”
They certainly have a point. Tesla is a bit of an outlier, it has the star power to convince 373,000 people to line up for a car that won’t even arrive for one and a half years. But go looking for any used electric car of another brand and you likely won’t be short of available options. Would you want my gently used digital camera batteries? Probably not. That said, as electric vehicles continue to get more advanced and go further mainstream, this stigma should dissipate too.
All in all, this isn’t meant to be some decree of what will or will not happen in regards to these foundational EVs in the future. Instead, I just wanted to start the discussion. Please voice your opinions below, and make any suggestions for electric vehicles you think will end up in collector garages in the future.
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Rav4 Photo Credit: Karissa Hosek/Auctions America