Next Dodge Challenger will get electric-motor boost
A new generation of Dodge muscle cars is coming, and it will get a boost with an electric motor.
Fiat Chrysler's performance brand has ridden the ground-shaking, supercharged V-8 Challenger Hellcat to become the No. 2-selling sports coupe in the U.S. behind the Ford Mustang. But Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley says the clock is ticking on the car's aging 2-ton chassis and thirsty engines, and they will be replaced in the next decade.
"The reality is those platforms and that technology we used does need to move on. They can’t exist as you get into the middle-2020s," the new Fiat Chrysler boss said at the Detroit auto show. "New technology is going to drive a load of weight out, so we can think of the powertrains in a different way. And we can use electrification to really supplement those vehicles."
Despite sitting on Chrysler's 13-year-old LX architecture, the Ontario-assembled Challenger has soared in sales. The top-of-the-line $60,000, 717-horsepower Hellcat version broke the internet when it debuted in 2015.
But with government emissions standards tightening, automakers have been looking to alternative powertrains with fewer cylinders to satisfy customer performance demands. Supercar-makers like Acura, McLaren and Porsche have mated electric motors and downsized gasoline engines, with the primary purpose of the batteries being performance, not fuel efficiency. So don't expect the next Hellcat to be an all-electric car.
"I think that electrification will certainly be part of the formula that says what is American muscle in the future," said Manley. "What it isn’t going to be is a V-8, supercharged, 700-horsepower engine."
Manley did not go into specifics on what the gas-engine components would be, and a Dodge spokesperson said the company had no further comment.
Ford is rumored to be working on a hybrid, turbo-4 with V-8-like power for its next-decade Mustang. And the coming mid-engine Corvette will reportedly offer a gas-electric model putting out 1,000 horsepower.
Challenger 2019 models (and their sister Charger sedans) are powered by four engines: 3.6-liter V-6, 5.7-liter hemi V-8, 6.4-liter hemi V-8, and supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. Industry analysts have expected Dodge to put a twin-turbo V-6 into performance models with as heavily updated, lighter chassis.
Ward's Auto predicts that use of the company's workhorse Pentastar V-6 — found in numerous Fiat Chrysler vehicles and produced at Detroit's Mack Avenue Engine plant — will continue to grow in volume over the next decade, including the addition of the twin-turbo variant to replace the $35,000 Challenger R/T's 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
Bob Gritzinger, propulsion analyst for Ward's Intelligence, suspects Dodge may mate the twin-turbo V-6 with an electric motor for peak power.
"I could see something along the lines of the Porsche model which puts a turbo V-6 together with an electric motor to create the (all-wheel drive) Panamera 4 e-Hybrid," says Gritzinger.
With a combined gas-electric jolt of 462 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, Car and Driver hit 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds in the Panamera.
Fiat Chrysler chief Manley says electrification "can’t be the dominant part (of a muscle car). Electrification deployed to increase the performance of the vehicle as its primary goal – with the added benefits of fuel economy – is very different, instead of the other way around."
Kelley Blue Book analyst and veteran muscle car fan Karl Brauer is skeptical that electrification and muscle can co-exist.
"There's a long-standing rule about what constitutes American muscle, but electrification is not part of it," he said. "I need something that gets my blood pumping."
He acknowledges the hybridization of $100,00-plus European supercars like Porsche and McLaren, but says it has come "with a lot of added weight and cost."
He says the last Chrysler CEO to alter the American muscle recipe was Lee Iacocca in the late 1970s. Under similar regulatory pressures, Iacocca moved away from thirsty V-8s and toward front-wheel drive V-6 platforms. Forty years later, Dodge roared back to prominence with the trusty V-8 hammer.
"The Challenger is now challenging the Mustang for sales primacy with a V-8," says Brauer. "Who would have thought that? In terms of sales, the supercharged V-8s have worked well."
Analysts also speculate that the entry-level $28,000 Challenger may use a version of the company's 2-liter turbo-4 with a 48-volt eTorque mild-hybrid assist.
Manley praised the Challenger team's leadership for elbowing into the sales battle between traditional segment leaders Mustang and Chevy Camaro.
Since 2014, Challenger sales have increased 30 percent to 66,716 in 2018 — within 10,000 units of the Ford — while Camaro fell 25 percent last year to 50,963. Only the Challenger gained sales in 2018 (by 3 percent), with 42 percent of cars equipped with V-8s.
"(The team) is incredibly creative," said Manley. "They came up with this idea which originally was part of a mini skunk-works until it was too late to stop it. I think everyone very quickly envisioned what Hellcat would do for Dodge."
Dodge appears poised to re-imagine American muscle again in the decade ahead.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.