Will EVs Electrify the Collector Car Market?

The smart money says we just don’t know yet, but the trends are well worth watching.

The $2.5 million paid for the very first Hummer electric pickup must be an auction record for any EV.
The $2.5 million paid for the very first Hummer electric pickup must be an auction record for any EV.

General Motors

The very first 2022 Hummer electric pickup truck, VIN 001, was just auctioned off for charity at a stunning $2.5 million. That has to be a record price paid for an electric car at auction, anywhere or anytime. The new owner, a woman whose name was undisclosed, has to be either very charitable or after an appreciating asset.

How will the growing popularity of electric vehicles, and their eventual takeover of the global auto industry, affect the collector car market? The consensus among experts is that it won’t—at least in the short term. It’s certainly made EVs more visible and generated interest in the first generation—which had their heyday between 1900 and 1920. A sampling was featured at the just-concluded Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. 

“I’m not sure any of us can say at the moment, but it was nice to see some early electrics at Amelia,” Rupert Banner, the group motoring director at Bonhams in New York, tells Treehugger. “We have seen a little more interest expressed in that era of electric, now that there are some dots to join between past, present and future.”

A 1922 Detroit Electric at Amelia Island.
A 1922 Detroit Electric at Amelia Island. The company sold 12,000 vehicles between 1907 and 1939.

Jim Motavalli

Donald Osborne is CEO of the Audrain Automobile Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, where the Vanderbilts and other wealthy summer residents (particularly the women) used electric cars to tool around in. Women’s "sphere of interest" was thought to be limited, so some early EVs—with parlor-like interiors and tillers—were marketed to them. The era is celebrated in Audrain’s current "Women Take the Wheel" exhibit, which runs through August. 

The value of EVs is based in part on their usability,” Osborne tells Treehugger. “The collector car market is about experiential ownership. And some early cars are fun to drive, others not so much. Anything with a tiller is horrifying.” 

Osborne doesn’t want to speculate on how the collector car market might change. “We’ve never been good at predicting the future of the automobile,” he said. “If you were reading Popular Mechanics in the 1950s, you’d think we’d all be driving nuclear-powered flying cars by now.”

Floor of the Women Take the Wheel exhibition
Floor of the Women Take the Wheel exhibition, showcasing the early corner of automobiles from this time period.

Audrain Automobile Museum

At car shows today, the antiques sit fender to fender with new cars from sponsoring automakers. At Amelia, many of the moderns were high-end EVs. The assumption, a good one, is that people wealthy enough to deal in collector vehicles selling for hundreds of thousands and even millions will also need modern luxury vehicles and sports cars. 

A logical person to ask about the collector market is Gerry Spahn, the chief spokesperson for Rolls-Royce in the U.S. He basically agrees with Osborne. “I don’t think EVs will change the market all,” he tells Treehugger. “The value is in keeping something rare in such a pristine condition. With changes in propulsion, classic internal combustion cars will become even more rare. I suspect the values will retain, and for the foreseeable future. None of us can see beyond the horizon of full electrification or alternative propulsions, but the value of classic Rolls-Royce cars will remain if not increase.”

The converse could also be true, of course. Rarity does increase desirability, but interest is often based on the cars of our youth. And that’s why cars of the 1950s are currently depressed in the marketplace—the people who drove them in high school are—no nice way to say this—dying off. When no one remembers driving cars with gas engines, their fans could become a smaller coterie. 

Early EVs are not super valuable these days, even if they have an interesting history. A 1908 Baker Electric Queen Victoria Roadster that was owned by President William Howard Taft—the “first motoring president”—was auctioned in Hershey, Pennsylvania by RM in 2014 for $93,500. Another even earlier Baker—from 1902 and in Concours condition—drew only $26,881 at Bonhams in Australia circa 2011. 

1902 Baker Electric
This 1902 Baker Electric sold for only $26,000 at a Bonhams auction.


One interesting development is that these 1900-1920 cars can be powered by modern lithium-ion batteries, making them much more usable and reliable, with a longer range, than they ever were before. Electric car racing, such as Formula E, will also end up putting used EVs on the collector market. No EV has ever completed the Baja 1000 road race, but one when does that vehicle will become collectible. 

These are the EVs most likely to appreciate, though early Tesla Roadsters and Model S cars, or Porsche Taycans and anything built by Rimac might soon be taking off. I would consider a Roadster from the first year of production (2008) an appreciating asset. The crystal balls are cloudy, but trends will start to emerge.