This “heritage as a service” concept opens exciting new possibilities to premium car brands seeking greater leverage through their glorious histories, but it also reinforces how dangerously stuck in the past they have become. The risk is that automakers are so focused on baby-boomer-derived profits that they ignore the profound shift in automotive values that will take place when those boomers stop buying cars. This risk is perhaps best exemplified by Bernie Ecclestone, the power behind Formula One racing, who recently argued that the racing series has no reason to attract young fans as they don’t have the money to spend on the products being advertised by the racing series’ luxury-brand sponsors. He’s right: Fifteen-year-olds don’t buy Rolex watches any more than they buy BMWs. But 15-year-olds eventually grow up.
If cars, whether for racing or the road, are to remain relevant and aspirational, automakers will have to look past short-term profits (see the public’s runaway enthusiasm for Tesla, a clear product of that firm’s prioritization of long-term vision over profitability). The established players have a decade or two to rake in the last of the baby boomers’ cash, but the end of that gold rush is already in sight. Younger generations, brought up in a world transformed by the information revolution, want a similar revolution in mobility. The right exploitation of emotion-conferring heritage might help steal baby boomers from one premium brand to another, but it hardly prepares premium automakers for attracting younger generations in search of a new automotive paradigm.