Jean-Louis Blanc: “The automobile cannot be permanently insulted.”

INTERVIEW - Le new president of the “Fédération classic cars”  has embarked on a vast process of defending and promoting our motoring heritage.

Recognized as being of public utility, this more than fifty-year-old entity has 1400 members, including 1200 collectors’ clubs.This represents a community of about 250,000 collectors and several hundred vehicles – cars, motorcycles, vans, tanks, trucks.The numbers are constantly increasing.No sooner had he arrived at the head of the FFVE, Jean-Louis Blanc set up working groups, the first results of which he is presenting to us today.

Jean-Louis BLANC – It is too often forgotten but France is the cradle of the automobile.At the beginning of the 20th century, our country had up to a thousand builders.That’s our story.We must celebrate it and share the memory of this exceptional adventure with our fellow citizens.You can’t bring yourself to see her constantly insulted.We have a considerable amount of sympathy from the population.When you drive around in a vintage car, it’s all smiles and hand signals.People love us.They love vintage cars.That’s our main strength.We have to maintain it.

How will the locations be selected?The FFVE has decided to celebrate the places of our automotive history.Our ambition is to affix between 50 and 100 plaques per year to places of cultural and historical interest, be it industrial sites, famous garages, sports events, prominent people – engineers, industrialists and sportsmen and women.The first one will be installed at Berliet in Vénissieux.Another will have gone from Tourny to Bordeaux in memory of the first motor race, Paris-Bordeaux-Paris, held in 1895.

We have asked our member clubs to make proposals and we are also cooperating with the Association of Automotive Historians.The promotion of vintage vehicles will also involve the labelling of some twenty elegance contests.The FFVE will endow them with awards.Finally, we decided to create a documentation centre.We will scan mining approval certificates, technical data sheets and manufacturer’s catalogues.This documentation will be available for clubs, professionals, and historians.

What other projects have you started?

The FFVE is sounding the alarm.Know-how is disappearing because it has not been passed on.Vehicle maintenance and restoration professionals and workshops are finding it increasingly difficult to find experts and craftsmen in each specialty.Training apprentices in the trades of mechanics, saddlery, sheet metal work and painting is our greatest challenge if we want our historical heritage to keep rolling.This is how we approached the CNPA (Centre national des professions de l’automobile), which has created a historical department with eight centres to address this shortage.The FFVE will contribute to the development of a sector by financing 20 to 50 apprenticeship grants from the start of the 2020 academic year.We will rely on the Companions of Duty and Living Heritage Enterprises.

Is the 30-year limit for becoming a collector’s item unchanging?

Apart from Belgium, which is down to 25, all of Europe is set for 30 years.But the question of raising the limit to 35 or 40 is raised.

So age is the only criterion that is taken into account?

Yes, it is.Unlike customs, which include a criterion of rarity and are also interested in the pedigree and track record of a race car.

How do you check the condition of a vehicle today when applying for a collector’s registration?

These requests are based on declarative information.The applicant must complete a file with descriptive photos of the vehicle.The vehicle must be in working order and roadworthy.One day, however, we will probably have to change the system and arrange appointments at technical control centres to check the vehicle and carry out expert appraisals.We could also engage in random checks.Nevertheless, I would add that the declarant is criminally liable.In particular on the forgery and use of forgeries, he is liable to heavy fines.This is the case, for example, with the Fiat 500 or Citroën Traction, which are cut up to make convertibles.

Training apprentices in the trades of mechanics, saddlery, sheet metal work, painting is our greatest challenge.

It should be noted that these vehicles drive on average barely 1000 km per year, which represents 220 kg of CO2.That’s ridiculous.This does not prevent the FFVE from participating in ecology by planting a tree for each certificate issued.With Fransylva, an association of private foresters, we will plant the equivalent of 40 hectares on seven sites.

The government is chasing diesel.What is the FFVE’s position on this energy, given that a large number of these vehicles will be eligible for collection ?

It’s true that diesel can be a question mark, but at the moment it only represents 5% of private vehicles with a collector’s registration.And today, it is not CO2 that is in turmoil but particles.Of course, we are going to arrive in vintages where the diesel share is higher and we will have to make decisions.There are two solutions.Either diesel is banned in collections but this is discriminatory and contrary to European regulations.Either it is a collector’s item, but it will not benefit from a circulation exemption under the law on mobility guidelines.

What is your position on retrofitting?

In the case of vehicles that switch from petrol to electric power, applications are not admissible.But we will probably have to find a new status for these models.The question also arises for youngtimers.These vehicles, which are between 20 and 30 years old, have no official status.We need to think about offering them one.

What do you say to collectors who are nostalgic for the old plates and who don’t find themselves in the new registration system?

A decree has just cancelled the switch to the same registration system for all.The old plates will remain in place, as long as there is no move or transaction.And we have been working for a few years to make it possible for collectors to choose their plates in the new registration system (SIV).The English are the champions.It brings in 100 million pounds a year for the authorities.It is also true that their system lends itself to puns.

How do governments view vintage cars?

We cultivate excellent relations with our three line ministries – Transport, the Interior and Culture.The Department of Transportation has delegated to us the issuance of certificates for obtaining collector’s registration cards, which are reserved for vehicles at least 30 years old.Being a public service mission, the FFVE strives to be irreproachable.With the Ministry of the Interior, we are holding discussions to be able, as other countries such as Italy or Belgium do, to find the history of a car through its registration papers.Today, the elements are stored in the prefectures and we are not able to trace the route of the vehicles.This would allow us to be more rigorous in issuing certificates.As for our relations with the Ministry of Culture, they are marked with the seal of love.We are fully committed to promoting our heritage through a series of events and demonstrations.It is important to remember that the main specificity of collector vehicles is that they represent an industrial heritage.

Auctions as a market barometer

The truce of the confectioners is over, the collection market is back on track.In a month’s time, the Retromobile show will be the opportunity to gauge the market with the first European auctions of the year.Following a tradition that is now well established, the three big players – Artcurial, Bonhams and RM Sotheby’s – will be fighting it out from a distance with catalogues featuring the models most prized by enthusiasts.If the downturn in 2019 continues, buyers could get great deals this year.Depending on the models, the rating has contracted by 10-30% in 2019.A normal and healthy phenomenon.The last decade has been marked by the explosion in prices and the arrival of a new clientele attracted by the promise of added value.History repeats itself: as every time financial vision takes precedence over passion, the market corrects its excesses.A sign that the fundamentals are sound, unlike the 1990s, which saw a collapse in sales, the market has not collapsed.On the other hand, cases have often ended at low estimates.