SPARE a thought for the poor old clutch. In just a generation’s time it could be sitting in a dusty corner, alongside such relics as the manually operated choke and overdrive switches, as one of those things new drivers will know next to nothing about.
That’s the future being hinted at by research carried out with a focus group comprised of the next generation of drivers – specifically, those who between the ages of 10 and 16. Normally, I give these surveys a wide berth but this one’s been carried out by an up ‘n’ coming motoring specialist you might have heard of – Peugeot. I know it’s got a vested interest because it wants to continue flogging cars after the laws on sales of internal combustion cars change at the end of the decade, and today’s kids are tomorrow’s customers, but its own research concluded that four out of ten youngsters don’t even want to learn on a petrol or a diesel car. The future’s electric, and they’d rather skip the old hat tech and get straight to the point.
All of which makes me wonder how well equipped tomorrow’s motorists will be for yesterday’s motors, or even today’s ones. Another group that’s conducted its own research, the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs, concluded at its annual meeting earlier this month that getting younger people interested in classic cars is one of the biggest problems it’s now facing.
For me, it isn’t just about asking today’s teenagers to be interested in things like Ford Anglias and Austin Allegros. It’s about asking how interested they’re going to be in cars on sale right now that deserve to be tomorrow’s classics. The Toyota GR Yaris, for instance. Caterham’s Seven 170, which is so lightweight that it’s actually more efficient than many of today’s hybrid offerings. The Lotus Emira. The list goes on.
Electric cars have, by the very nature of how they operate, no gearbox, so if that 40 per cent of youngsters do go on to pass their test in a zero-emissions vehicle, they’ll have a licence that counts them out of driving anything with a manual ‘box. That does, of course, mean that there are still 60 per cent for whom learning how to find the biting point and when to change up still have currency, but I reckon it’s a significant percentage that’s only going to increase as 2030 veers ever closer.
I get completely that you’d want your kids to pass their test in something with the latest tech and you’d be mightily annoyed at your driving instructor if they rocked up at the test centre with an Austin Cambridge, but I do think that more needs to be done to promote the joys of driving, and saving the cars that espouse our wonderful motoring heritage.
Having a generation grow up that can’t drive them – and more worryingly, doesn’t want to – means that fewer enthusiasts will be saving the classics of tomorrow.
David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly