In July 1965, Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, abandoning the acoustic guitar for the rock genre that was sweeping through the counterculture. It was a defining moment for music and for a changing society.
The segue to electric vehicles has been at a slower pace; more of an evolution than a revolution. Up until now, drivers have had the option for electric vehicles. Since 2006, there was Tesla. General Motors (2016 Bolt) and Nissan (2010 Leaf) were available. These days, eyeing Tesla with envy, all of the other domestic and international automotive manufacturers have jumped on board with laser-like focus on being the first choice electric vehicle. But, the transition for drivers will not be overnight.
As far as electric vehicles go, there has not been that instant recognition moment that the world has changed… until now. Sadly, or not, the checkered flag has come down on brands that epitomized the gas-guzzling, hyper-powered American automotive dream.
This week was the end of the brand promise of the American-made pursuit of horsepower and performance. This week was the end of powerful gas-powered performance-oriented muscle cars that express the drag-racing, car chasing quarter-mile crushing spirit of the street.
This week was the end of The Dodge Challenger and The Dodge Charger. Good-bye, Dukes of Hazzard (1969 Dodge Charger). Adios, Fast and Furious (1969 Dodge Charger). Never again, Vanishing Point (1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440 Magnum). Car chases will never be the same.
Car enthusiasts received the news that those American-made, 2-door sports coupes with V-8 engines designed for high performance driving, rear wheel drive, street performing vehicles were giving up life for the electric car. Muscle cars are now officially muscled out.
Stellantis, owner of Dodge, announced that the Dodge Challenger and the Dodge Charger will be excised from the Dodge line-up. Both the Charger and Challenger will be discontinued at the end of 2023. According to The Wall Street Journal, Dodge is hoping that its loyal muscle car buyers “will embrace a new kind of muscle: one that runs exclusively on battery power.”
This new “muscle car” will be an all-electric concept vehicle designed to embrace the memory of the gas-powered Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger. The new EV is expected to go on sale in 2024. It will be the Dodge’s first fully electric model.
Dodge hopes that calling the EV concept car the Charger Daytona SRT, “after the vehicle that first broke 200 miles an hour on a NASCAR track in 1970,” will lessen the pain of the loss. To make the transition even more natural, Dodge also created a synthetic “exhaust tone” designed to reproduce the “thunderous roar of its gas-engine muscle cars.”
It will be interesting to observe whether a synthetic exhaust tone will jump-start sales. The Dodge Charger and the Dodge Challenger are beyond iconic brands in the lore of American automotive.
The Dodge Charger’s first year was 1966. The car was an attempt to manufacture an upscale, upsized, affordable, highly-styled rear-wheel pony vehicle. A pony car defined a vehicle model that was performance-oriented, compact but with a long hood, either a coupe or a convertible at a reasonable price point.
The Dodge Challenger’s first year was 1970. It is considered to be Dodge’s late response to Ford’s Mustang. The long-gone, but gorgeous Pontiac Firebird and the Mercury Cougar were also in the competitive set.
Muscle cars were hot. But, during the 1970’s, their sales declined as new amendments on emissions from the Clean Air Act had an impact; there was a fuel crisis and insurance costs rose.
However, car enthusiasts kept the flame alive. The Dodge Charger and the Dodge Challenger were vehicles originally manufactured by Chrysler, a brand that underwent a series of mergers and de-mergers, finally winding up in the arms of Italian automotive maker Fiat.
However, Stellantis will give us one more year to manage our angst. Stellantis tells us that the Charger’s and Challenger’s last model year will be a throwback. The goal is to keep the brands alive in the minds’ of its loyalists so that these buyers will make the segue to the EV version. This is a big bet. Giving us the best of the best for one last time may make us view the electric model as cringe-worthy.
As reported in JALOPNIK, an online automotive newsletter, Dodge will use the last models to “pay homage” to the Charger’s and the Challenger’s past. There will be seven models, colors from the cars’ heydays and an “expansion of SRT Jailbreak models.” The Jailbreak models will include the 717 horsepower Charger and Challenger SRT Hellcat.
The idea is to connect each 2023 model with some element of Dodge’s 1960’s and 1970’s history. There will be a “Last Call” plaque on each vehicle as well as a nod to the American origin of both brands “Designed in Auburn Hills” and “Assembled in Brampton.”
The CEO of Dodge, Tim Kuniskis said, “We are celebrating the end of an era – and the start of a bright new electrified future – by staying true to our brand. At Dodge, we never lift and the brand will make the end of our iconic Charger and Challenger nameplates in their current form in the same way that got us here, with a passion both for our products and our enthusiasts that drives us to create as much uniqueness in the muscle car community and marketplace as possible.”
This sounds great. But, the reasons for the demise of the Charger and the Challenger brands are more complicated and not as brand-passionate as stated. To stay competitive, Stellantis has stated that it wants half of its portfolio to be battery-operated by 2030. This cannot happen with The Challenger and The Charger in the roster.
The Wall Street Journal indicates that Dodge and other makers of sports cars have the problem that the popularity of their models “mostly resides in the power and performance of the engine. Some, like the Chrysler-developed Hemi engine, have become recognized names in themselves.”
Additionally, “the popularity of gas-guzzling models like the Challenger and Charger are dragging down Stellantis’s average fuel-economy rating, which has long lagged behind competitors. That has resulted in the car maker having to pay fines for failing to meet certain environmental regulatory requirements.”
In July, Stellantis announced that it had allocated $685.5 million in anticipation of fines related to not meeting US fuel-economy standards.
One dealer speaking with The Wall Street Journal said, “The transition to electric is going to be important, and I don’t know that we will still have those same buyers,” said John Morrill, who owns a dealership in Massachusetts that sells the Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Chrysler brands.
He said muscle cars attract a very specific kind of old-school customer and getting the shift to electrics right will be critical because the brand’s lineup is already narrow. Dodge currently sells only three models.” Another dealer agreed, saying that he did not see current muscle car drivers making the transition.
If you are in doubt as to the impact of ending the lives of The Challenger and Charger, please note that these two brands “accounted for nearly 62% of the brand’s U.S. sales in 2021. The third model is the Durango SUV.” Other muscle car competitors have not fared as well. And, Ford has already manufactured an EV version of the Mustang.
Whatever the case, the reality is that the end of The Charger and The Challenger marks an end of an American era. It is unclear whether an EV with a synthetic sound may help. American muscle cars were defining. All you need to do is type into Google “muscle car chase scenes” to confirm how embedded muscle cars are in the American psyche.
Dodge is mindful enough to recognize that its muscle car loyalists may not transition well. But, the exigencies of a changing world, changing consumer behavior and changing regulations require automotive companies to change their ways.
It takes guts to cancel The Charger and The Challenger brands.