Life in 2021 has felt a lot like the lingering hangover nobody has quite recovered from. At each moment that some semblance of normalcy begins to present itself, you realize it's some hologram of what you thought you knew… the venue might be the same, but what you’re witnessing seems unrecognizable. Not just a shift, but a complete and total flip, entirely counter to what came before it.
This phenomenon was central to the automotive world in 2021 and offered a clear, if expected, lens from which to view major cultural shifts in consumption, technology and design in the post-Covid world. Here are some of the trends we saw across the automotive industry in 2021:
Year of the Collaboration
The predominant conversation right now in the car world is around sustainability and what legislative (and customer) demands mean for the future of automotive development. At odds with that is a new mainstream embracing of car culture as fashion. And while consuming car culture doesn’t necessarily mean new car consumption, it has manifested into an entirely new world of co-branded product way beyond the car dealer gift shop T-shirt.
No doubt this seemingly unstoppable proliferation of automotive collaborations presents a commercially beneficial relationship for both car brands and fashion brands, but does it add anything to the conversation about cars themselves? Or is it just more product to sell? For the car brand, they get to buy into a particular culture or zeitgeist, and hopefully connect with valuable future customers that may not yet be ready to buy an actual car. For the collaborator brand, it makes for a great story telling opportunity through genuine creative collaboration and production of a concept, such as in the case of the L’Art de L’Automobile Porsche 968. When authentic, you end up with a L’Art 968… and other times, you end up with a T-shirt that feels like a graphic design exercise for the sake of capitalizing on a new consumer. Shared interests aren't the basis for a collaboration. Shared values are. The conversation here should be bigger than a capsule collection or a trim package.
The Stock-X-ification of the Car Market
Call it what you will, but this was the year consumption became an investment strategy and where products and assets blurred their previously distinct lines. The market went nuts due to supply chain issues related to the pandemic and, presumably, also as a result of brands announcing future plans reinforcing their inevitable extinction. Mercedes stopped selling V8s in America for at least a year due to vague explanations about supply chain and quality control issues, depending on the source, resulting in 100% price increases in G-Wagons. Porsche GT3s, historically recognized as the ultimate sports car offering supercar performance, are listed at over $300,000 by resellers, leading to questions about its value proposition and its place as a performance benchmark.
Whatever you think the reasoning is, brands and car dealers are certainly capitalizing on the circumstances. While it's nice to lose less money on the car you may already own, nobody wants to pay over MSRP for any new car, much less a generic car, which unfortunately was the norm in 2021.
Year of the Branded Resto-Mod
Resto-Mods are nothing new in the car world. While enough time needs to pass for any car to qualify as “resto worthy,” and beyond that, technology needs to change in some way that puts a value on the “mod” part, often, their lineage can easily be traced back to manufacturers whose cars are still produced today (Ruf, anyone?). The Porsche space is no doubt the dominant world in which you’ll find such products, such as the Lanzante TAG Turbo (our favorite Porsche this year) and various Gunther Werks models, but in 2021, this segment exploded, and it was the year it became clear that Resto-Mods could be brands-cum-manufacturers themselves outside of the bespoke client focused one-off car they have historically been.
Outside of the Porsche-iverse, some of our favorites included the Automobili Amos Futurista, based on the Lancia Delta Integrale and the Officine Fioravanti Testarossa. Even manufacturers such as Bentley and Jaguar jumped into this space, offering “continuation” models, such as the Bentley Blower Car Zero and E-Type 60, respectively. Effectively, these are newly factory built cars of vintage models with varying degrees of modernization, offering customers a level of exclusivity that other new cars simply cannot match, no matter how limited. Because what’s more limited than something that isn’t actually produced?
The De-Monochromatism of Cars
For most of the last ten years, the most popular car colors have been black, white, silver, and gray. These four colors represented more than 70 percent of cars produced globally. How boring. This changed in 2021… noticeably, if not statistically. From social media initiatives to “Make Green Great Again,” to events like “Rare Shades” which celebrate Porsche’s storied history of Paint-to-Sample cars, color went mainstream. Even Mercedes, a typically austere offerer of colors, introduced their new SL, arguably the most important model to the brand historically, in Sun Yellow.
The standout moment in the color space in 2021, however, was none other than the world record setting sale of McLaren F1 Chassis 029 at the 2021 Gooding & Co. Pebble Beach Auction for $20,465,000 in not black, white, silver, or gray, or even green, but… Creighton Brown. Brown. Actually, not quite brown, more of a pinky brown, metallic mauve. I’ve had multiple conversations following this sale with McLaren F1 collectors, servicers, and auction houses who all agreed the color alone would have made such a price seem unthinkable in the past. But, this is where the factors of this year in review converge, and if cars are fashion and the market is crazy: do you, and buy what you want, green, yellow, purple, or brown.
Car of the Year
This wasn’t meant to be a car of the year feature, but since inevitably people ask… my favorite car I drove this year was the Alpine A110 Pure. If you live in America, I’m sorry. You don’t get this car, but there is good news: this is the most exciting segment in the car world, one that is actually growing at that. The Porsche Cayman, Lotus Emira, and Alpine A110 are the most exciting, enjoyable, competitive, segment of cars right now. These are sports cars that aren't the fastest, most powerful, or most expensive, but they are the cars that somehow manage to produce the most connective tissue between your brain and the car. Here, you’re provided the experience and allure that we associate with driving as a selfish act of enjoyment, not as a mode of transportation.
A prominent issue in the car world at the moment is the “super-ization” of everything. Supercar this, supercar that and the reality is, almost none of us drive supercars. This super-ization makes car critics, armchair internet racers and car manufacturer marketing teams devolve into a space of “best” as opposed to “best for,” which actually takes use case and context into account. The reality is, we’re post-performance metrics. They don’t mean anything anymore and you shouldn’t care about them, because in a world where a $75,000 electric car will best most supercars on singular arbitrary metrics, what does any of it mean? I can tell you from experience that there is almost nothing more boring than driving a 700 horsepower car at 20 MPH in traffic. If you want to buy a car for yourself because of what it means to other people, your choices are easy. Instagram will tell you what you’re supposed to have. The super-ization of the automotive narrative has made the car world feel unattainable and a bit boring, but if you know where to look, and what you’re looking for, your car experience today can be whatever you want it to be. In 2022, focus more on your car experience and less on your car flex.