Driving young America

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WILL MILLENNIALS CONTINUE AMERICA'S LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE AUTOMOBILE?

As the Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival looks down the road to future festivals, a fork in the road looms: Will automotive hobbyists and car collecting become a thing of the past, or can future generations be convinced to take it for a spin?

As ever-evolving technology makes cars seem less like works of art and more like robots and computers — and as self-driving cars and ride-sharing services impact rates of car ownership — industry insiders worry that future generations won’t share their appreciation for a well-designed chassis or the throaty purr of a carefully maintained engine.

At this year’s Concours, organizers of the Driving Young America showcase hope to change that perspective, highlighting the role young drivers can play in the automotive industry’s next evolutionary leap.

“The world is still going to need technicians,” said Keith Coltrap, the marketing manager for advocacy and innovation with BP Lubricants USA. “There’s just going to be a massive transition from combustion to whatever the propulsion of the future is going to be.”

To encourage the next generation of automotive technicians and designers, BP Castroil and Michelin have teamed up for Driving Young America Boulevard, a new exhibit at this year’s Concours. Part of a broader outreach program, the highlight of this exhibit will be a high-tech virtual reality setup offering a hands-on look at auto repair.

Crafted by Digital Mistake, the appropriately named Wrench software turns car repair into a game, complete with a leaderboard showing who fixed their ride the fastest. From oil changes to brake replacements, each component is faithfully re-created inside the computer to exacting detail. It’s the closest you can get to doing the work without actually getting your hands dirty. 

“The VR tool is flat-out amazing. It’s very gamelike, so young men and women will be very interested in it,” Coltrap said. “It’s a great opportunity to show young people we care and to interact with them.” 

In addition to the VR experience, a Driving Young America Forward exhibit will incorporate entries by Beaufort County high school students in the Michelin Junior Challenge Design Contest, which asks teens to design the car of the future.

“This program is quickly becoming a model for how to engage young designers,” said Ben Ebel, Michelin Challenge Design chairman. “Each year, we have seen progressively more mature designs coming from these students — not in major markets across the country, but right here in Beaufort County.”

It seems there’s nothing but smooth road ahead for the automotive world.