Dream Cruise panel: Millennials must drive us to future

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — With autonomous cars on the horizon, some performance-car experts are more concerned about keeping and growing the enthusiasm of younger people than they are about self-driving cars stealing the thunder from the muscle-car era.

Muscle cars, self-driving cars, electrification, the business case for performance cars, advancement of internal combustion engines and even the prospect of autonomous racing were discussed Thursday during WWJ-AM’s (950) Going Fast, Future & Past Woodward Dream Cruise Business Breakfast at Duggan’s Irish Pub.

Jim Owens, performance marketing manager at Ford Motor Co.; Al Oppenheiser, Chevrolet Camaro chief engineer for General Motors Co.; and Ken Ligenfelter, owner of Ligenfelter Performance Engineering and the Ligenfelter Collection, talked about performance muscle cars and the tradition of the Woodward Dream Cruise on the historic road.

“The millennial generation I think is so important to get them enthusiastic about cars, not the ones that are here at Woodward with their dads and moms here this weekend, but all over the country,” Oppenheiser said under a dark tent as rain poured outside. “If they start to think that cars are appliances to get from A to B and I don’t need to drive them. ... There is a need for the autonomy in the world and it’s coming, but you won’t have cars at car shows.”

Oppenheiser said he has noticed falling prices for C1 Chevrolet Corvettes produced from 1953 through 1962. He acknowledges the era of people who drove mid-’50s classics is dying and not many young people are buying them.

“We need the young people to drool over those cars out in the parking lot and aspire to one,” he said.

Owens said Ford worked with Hagerty, a classic car insurance company, about three years ago to teach 16-year-olds how to drive a manual transmission using classic, collectible cars.

“We do need future enthusiasts, but I think there are insurance companies out there ... that can help us grow that culture and work together to continue to do it,” Owens said.

The rainy weather limited cruisers, but Owens drove a new Ford GT, which got a lot of attention. Ligenfelter brought a Chevrolet SS and Oppenheiser had a new Camaro ZL1, which GM last week announced would be the car for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series beginning next year.


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