In March, renowned consulting firm McKinsey & Co. released a report that sounded dire: Automobile parts suppliers need to adapt now or risk going out of business. With the emergence of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs), the report forecasts that the need for engines and transmissions for internal combustion-engined cars will drop by 75 percent by 2035.
Over the next dozen or so years, internal combustion engines will only be found in a small portion of new cars. If parts suppliers do not recalibrate, they will perish, as they will be saddled with expensive capital equipment that is no longer producing at a capacity to justify their expense.
There’s no need to lament the fading days of the combustion engine, their future is already written. They will live on long into the future, and will become the exclusive domain of the collector car hobby. (Despite claims by Mazda of an ICE-powered Miata “forever.”)
When I read the McKinsey report, that was the first thing that entered my mind. In 2074, when my 1974 Alfa Romeo and I are both centenarians, where will I find replacement parts and consumables like a simple oil filter -- or even oil for that matter!
What I do know is this: Cars are essential. They embody innovation, history, culture, art, exhilaration, and even freedom. However, what do we need to do now to ensure that generations to come get to experience them?
Five Common-Sense Steps to Take Now
To protect the future of our cars, here are five actions that we can do today to ensure a future where our kids and their kids will experience the wonder of these wonderful machines.
1. Never discard old parts. Original parts are a finite resource, so it is incumbent upon all of us to keep them in circulation for as long as we can. Got some spares in the garage? Ensure they go to a good home. Use swap meets, club bulletin boards, and Collector Part Exchange (the main reason we built it!) to avoid parts ending up in landfills or scrapyards. If you are a supplier, be sure to let people know what they can send you as cores. This simple act will help parts stay in circulation longer.
2. Succession planning. I hear over and over about families of deceased car collectors who are unsure what to do with all the parts amassed over half a century or more. This is possibly the most impactful way we lose parts. It’s not fun to think about, but take the time to have a plan for them. If you tell someone what to do, that’s a start. Arrange for a friend or club to be ready to help, or start divesting earlier.
3. Rebuild, don’t replace. You would be surprised what services are out there. Often, out of expediency, we just find a replacement, drop it in, and dump the “broken” part. Often it can easily be rebuilt. Think twice. Contact someone who sells those parts and they will often take back the core and send you a rebuilt part -- using yours for the next person. Also, consider artisans like Jim Simpon of O.D.D. Parts or Tom Meadows of Marelli Service and others like them.
4. Salvage first. Auto recycling is a big business. Long gone are the days of the “junkyard.” Today there are sophisticated auto dismantlers who focus on certain marques and are operated by extremely knowledgeable experts. For example, if you need Porsche parts, try Joe Cogsbill in North Carolina or Rich Bontempi in California. For Britsh sports cars, Bill Katz can find the hard-to-find. Those are just the start.
5. Custom manufacturing as a backstop. When the parts become so hard to come by, we will need alternatives. Fortunately, new technologies are making this possible. Machinists can fabricate almost anything to original specifications. Check out Paul Schach who is a machinist extraordinaire, or the aforementioned Jim Simpson. Finally, 3-D printers are going to be the backstop for all of us. By 3D scanning original parts, they can recreate them affordably in a wide variety of materials, including metal, using technology such as Markedforge.
With a little foresight, we will all ensure that the cars we love will live on by having the supply to keep them on the road. They won't just be museum pieces, but machines that can be driven and seen out in public so that future generations can experience the thrill we all had when we saw, heard, smelled, and felt a car that truly inspired us.