On Feb. 27, 2020, the last Chevrolet Impala sedan rolled off the assembly line at the General Motors plant in the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck.
GM then shut down the line and spent $2.2 billion to retool it to build electric vehicles there starting later this year.
The Impala was a modest car, starting at about $31,600. But that particular cherry red Impala could end up worth a whole lot more in the future, car experts said.
"It might be a collector," said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, a specialty car insurance provider and a classic car enthusiast brand. "I think the last gasoline version of certain models will be highly collectible and highly sought after, just like the first-year models are."
Automakers have vowed to transform nearly all of the world's cars to electric power over the next few decades — or sooner. The impending EV invasion has raised a debate among collectors: Are you better off having the first car of the first model year or the last of a gas model?
Take the Corvette, which has been the most-collected car in the world since the 1950s, Hagerty said. When the C7, which was the 2019 Corvette front-engine model, ended production to be replaced by the C8, the 2020 mid-engine car, two different types of collectors emerged.
"Some, certainly wanted the mid-engine — newest, latest-greatest Corvette," Hagerty said. "But there were an awful lot of people who said, 'I want to get one of the last C7s because I want the last front-engine Corvette.' "
The final C7 rolled off the line at GM's Bowling Green Assembly plant in Kentucky on Nov. 14, 2019. It was a Z06, purchased for $2.7 million by Dan Snyder, the CEO of the digital media company inLighten. The first C8 to roll off the line in January 2020 was sold to NASCAR race-team owner Rick Hendrick for $3 million. (In both cases, the money went to charity.)
Not all cars qualify
But that doesn't mean every model will draw such interest.
"In the car world, the car still has to be attractive and be a limited edition" for it to be a collector — it can't just be first or last off the line, Hagerty said.
That means not all of the last-gas-vehicles to roll off the assembly line will end up being collectibles; only the ones with premium options and in good condition will hold their value. The high-volume daily driving cars likely won't have much value because there will be a surplus of them, unless they are historic in some way, such as a last Impala rolling off the line of a plant that will never build gasoline cars again, said Harry Clark, a classic-car enthusiast who founded Classic Promenade in Phoenix.
"Ford made countless Model T's and Model A's and those are difficult to find a new owner for because you need to find an 85-year-old to feel any attachment to it," Clark said.
Still, the rare beauties, such as a Bugatti or Rolls-Royce, likely still will be valued by collectors 75 years from now, even if finding gasoline to drive them might be a challenge then.
"They are the Monets, the Rembrandts and Van Goghs," Clark said. "There are always buyers for Monets, Rembrandts and Van Goghs."
But the sad reality for most of us driving our mass market cars is they will cycle through their life and once they hit the end of the road, head to the crusher or be recycled for parts.
"During the next 15-year period, all the gasoline cars will have to get recycled," Clark said. "But if you have a Corvette now, maybe you keep it, and that becomes your weekend car" in an all-electric future.