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Automotive Summer Camp: 2022

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School’s out for summer (sorry, Alice Cooper!), but the fun and learning doesn’t stop for a group of high school students interested in cars.  In fact, a limited number of automotive summer camps run across the country.  

In Michigan, only one comes to mind:  the Full Tank Automotive Camp.

Camp Background

Now in its second year, the Full Tank camp is designed for 12-18 year olds interested in the car hobby or careers in the automotive industry.  It is run by the Midland County Educational Service Agency (MCESA) in partnership with the Automotive Marketing and Management department at Northwood University (Midland, MI).

More background on the planning of the first camp can be found in the article below, with a recap as well:

Related articles: Automotive Summer Camp: 2021Automotive Summer Camp: Year One Planning

Good programs don’t happen in a vacuum.  Don Johnson and Jordan Mack from MCESA along with Elgie Bright, Jennifer Patten and Taylor Timoszyk at Northwood University were all instrumental in making this a great program. 

Agenda

Similar to last year, this three day camp was full of activities to appeal to a wide audience.

In addition to some fun activities designed to build teamwork with the kids, the key topics covered included the following:

  • Automotive History 
  • Electric Vehicle Walk-around Demonstration
  • Classic Car Overview and Ride Along
  • Engine Teardown and Mechanical Repairs
  • Dealership Tour
  • Car Commercial Activity

Automotive History:  Events That Shaped the Automotive Industry

On Day One of the camp, I took the students through the 120 year history of the auto industry.  With the camp agenda focused on future opportunities for these students, this history lesson was important.  As Winston Churchill once said, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.”

When I shared this information last year, I was pleased that so many of the students grilled me for more details.  As a result, I beefed up this year’s presentation to include much more detail.  

The engagement with the students was really fun, and brought a few surprises.  The vast majority of the students were not happy about an all-electric automotive future.  I saw some of this at last year’s camp, but the attitude was more intense this year.  This attitude about electric vehicles was obvious during my guest lectures with the college-aged students at Northwood last fall as well.

Jennifer Patten followed my history lesson with a great walk-around demonstration of her Tesla.  I don’t believe she thanked me for prepping the students for her segment!  You’re welcome, Jen!

Electric Vehicle Demonstration

As the students gathered around Jennifer’s Tesla, I saw and heard a lot of objections about electric cars.  Whether it was the perception about battery life, battery cost at expiration or the belief electric cars can’t be modded, Jennifer welcomed the objections.  

It was a lively discussion and it seemed as though the attitudes were changing by the end of the segment.  Whether the student objections were real or imagined, I don’t think they are alone in their thinking.  Less than 5% of the vehicles sold last year were electric, which is a combination of availability and true demand.  

Jennifer also challenged the students to make a short car commercial featuring the Tesla.  The car commercial activity took place over the three days of the camp.  Of the five teams that produced car commercials, only one featured the Tesla.  I guess that is progress!

I hope the car companies are paying attention to this generation of future car buyers.  It is important that they address the objections now, to set the stage for 2035 when it is believed most new cars sold will be electrified.

Classic Car Ride Along

Hagerty Insurance brought three older vehicles to this event:  1967 Pontiac GTO, 1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS and a 1990 Mazda Miata.  The Miata was included because of the growing trend toward affordable classics from the 1980s and 1990s, known as RADwood.  

Related articleThe RADwood Era: 80s and 90s Cars

You may be wondering why an insurance company was here with these older cars.  Hagerty provides collector car insurance and supports the car hobby through multiple car events, all designed to support and nurture the hobby.  Check out their Driver’s Club information and activities HERE.

The Hagerty team shared the details on each vehicle and took all of the students for rides around the Northwood campus.  I saw nothing but smiles as each kid exited the cars. This tied-in nicely with my history lesson, giving the students a real world feel for these iconic cars.

Special thanks to Rachel Ventimilia (Car Culture Manager) for her support of the camp, and to Brett, Andrea and Evan for making the two hour drive to campus in these classic cars.

Mechanical Repair and Dealer Visit

I was only able to participate in the first day of the camp, so I missed the visits to Delta College and Serra Toyota that took place on the final two days.

Jennifer accompanied the students for these visits, and reported that they loved the activities at Delta College.  It was very hands-on, and the students learned how to use special automotive tools. They tore down and reassembled small engines and learned how to perform a front end alignment on a car.  They also learned how to rotate, mount and balance tires.  Pretty cool stuff!

The dealership visit included a tour of the key departments within a dealership.  The students enjoyed the tour, but really wanted a deeper understanding of dealership operations.  Clearly, this is a group who might seek a dealership career after high school or college.  Something to remember for next year!

Student Reactions

Throughout the day I was at camp, I talked with a number of the students to see what kinds of cars they liked.  Two of the students (recent high school grads) where big into early Subaru WRXs.  Those guys loved to modify their cars, and it was pretty impressive.

A few others shared their favorites.  I asked them to send me a picture with a reason why they liked that car. 

Here is a sample of the responses:

“I like how well it handles and how fast it goes and how comfortable the seats are”

This was sent to me by “Everett K.”  He liked this 1969 Camaro SS that Hagerty brought to the event.  

“Kolton H” sent me a video of this truck that was entered into a tractor pull.  I did a screenshot of it while the front end was lifting off the ground.  When asked why this was a favorite, Kolton replied: “It’s a older truck, my grandpa used to pull with it and yea I just love it.”

While Everett and Kolton had great reasons for their favorite vehicles, “Emma S.” sent me the above picture of a 1955 Ford F100 with the following comment:

“This is my dream truck because it’s model is really great but really because this is me and my papas dream truck before he passed away.”

And that, my friends, is what the car hobby is all about.  Sometimes it is the look or performance of a vehicle that grabs your attention, but many times it is the memory attached to it that matters most.  I am so gratified to see the car passion from these students.  Job done!

Key Learnings

This year’s camp wrapped up last week, and the students are off to other things for the summer.  Feedback from the students was interesting, but not surprising.  They wanted more hands-on activities, like those provided by Delta College, and deeper understanding of dealership operations.  

The car commercial activity was fun (I wish I could share the videos, but privacy concerns prevent me from doing so), but maybe not for this technically-minded group.  They also preferred Little Caesars pizza for lunch over Dominos.  Who knew?

This camp is evolving and there is a great opportunity to create two different camps going forward–one for sales/marketing, one for technical.  For those of you with high school students, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Regardless of how this evolves down the road, the students were very engaging and thirsty for knowledge and experience.  I find that very encouraging, and look forward to the future.