We live in a strange time to be a car enthusiast. The internal combustion engine has never been more advanced or powerful, producing some of the greatest performance vehicles of all time. Yet are becoming increasingly unfashionable, depending on who you ask. Whether swapping to electric vehicles really are the best way to lower global emissions and curbing climate change is yet to be seen, but it’s what automakers are pushing towards now. Because that’s what governments are making them do. But before they completely phase out the engines we love, they may actually save them. Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis told CNBC he believes EVs can save the, “Golden Age of Muscle Cars” that has produced the current Challenger and Charger, and maybe improve beyond it.
Dodge is one of the only automakers that doesn’t currently offer a hybrid or EV, an odd position in the mainstream market. And unlike other brands’ efforts, the Hellcat engine has been a hugely successful halo product for Dodge, now being offered in the Challenger, Charger and Durango.
“What Hellcat has done is way beyond what our initial expectations were because it’s way beyond what a traditional, very high-end trim does,” Kuniskis told CNBC. He went on to say that Dodge has sold well over 50,000 Hellcat-powered vehicles in the past 5 years, a huge number for cars that start around $60,000 and can get much higher. But it’s not a forever product.
“The days of an iron block supercharged 6.2-liter V8 are numbered,” he said in the interview. Eventually, he said, compliance costs and emissions will phase out the Dodge Charger and Challenger Hellcat as we know it. Still, it’s unclear when that will be.
From a regulatory standpoint, electrification can help prolong gas-engined performance cars. Ford now sells the Mustang Mach-E, not necessarily because they think an electric crossover is what Mustang enthusiasts have been crying out for, but because it will allow them to sell the V8 Mustang for longer. Using the marketing of an established, iconic brand doesn’t hurt either. Chevrolet may even do the same with an electric Corvette crossover. Additionally, as Kuniskis pointed out in his interview, adding electrification to supplement internal combustion engines can improve emissions, fuel economy and performance all at the same time.
Although Kuniskis was tight lipped on future plans for adding electrification to the Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars, or a full-on EV product, there’s a chance it is already in the works.
Last year, FCA trademarked, “Cuda,” and it could hint at an upcoming vehicle, one that likely features electrification. This could be a Dodge Challenger and Charger Cuda trim level that uses the yet to be released, but patented GME-T6 straight six engine with an electric component, as a massive order for hybrid-ready ZF transmissions aligns with this.
They could also have an electric SUV in the works, or even an electric muscle car. Maybe Barracuda will be trademarked once again, too. We could see Barracuda being used on full EVs, and Cuda used on plug in hybrid models. But this is all speculation.
Down the line, though, there’s still a good chance EVs can take over. This doesn’t scare Kuniskis, however. He told CNBC that he’s excited for the cost of electric vehicles to become more accessible, and then Dodge can start applying EV architecture to performance cars, rather than economy cars. He compared the current times to 1972, when emissions regulations and the oil crisis killed the first golden era of muscle cars. Here, we went from the iconic first generation Ford Mustang to the hated Mustang II.
Only now, Kuniskis said he believes electrification will allow us to avoid a performance car extinction, and even if it means the V8 engines we love go away, we will still have something fast to light our hair on fire. At least we hope.