In first quarter of 2019, the Ford Mustang sold 16,917 units to make up 29% of the muscle car/pony car segment. Meanwhile the Dodge Challenger sold 13,431 for 23%. In third place was the Chevrolet Camaro, which sold 12,083 units for 21%. While the segment is shrinking as a whole, it was nevertheless Dodge that had been steadily biting away a bigger piece of the pie. And this isn’t taking account of the four-door Charger, either.
In other words, the heaviest, arguably worst-handling car in the segment that’s based on a platform nearly 20 years old has leapfrogged a vehicle family that has a variant with a Nurburgring time faster than a Ferrari 488GTB. In a passionate segment that’s all about bragging rights, how did this happen?
“It is a very loyal market but we increased 5.2 percentage points of market share last year. Those buyers are coming from our competitors to gain that sort of share,” said Kevin Hellman, Dodge Challenger brand manager.
“We improve these cars by listening and trying not to be something that we’re not. We’re Dodge, and we own the capabilities of our vehicle,” said Hellman. “We have research that says ‘give me more power, all the time… the bigger the number the better.’ Big power pays.”
With that kind of data, it’s no wonder why the limited-run, 840 horsepower 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon came to be, which is unquestionably the most powerful muscle car ever. Officially holding the No. 2 spot in horsepower for the segment is the 797 horsepower 2019 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye, which carries forward the legacy of the Demon. Officially in third place in the hp department is the 707 hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. Ford might squeak in there with the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 when official power figures are revealed. The most powerful stock Camaro has 650 horsepower, which is the 6.2L supercharged LT4 in the Camaro ZL1.
Judging by the sales metrics, and recent gains, Dodge is giving the segment what it wants.
“Number one is design, they love the style of the vehicle. Right after is fun to drive/power/acceleration,” says Hellman.
The looks of the 2019 Dodge Challenger remain unapologetically retro, while the Chevy Camaro has attempted to look more and more futuristic with the 2019 model year refresh. With the design change of the 2019 model year Camaro literally enraging its vocal enthusiast base, specifically on the Camaro SS, yet another styling change was announced for the 2020 model year.
Though it’s not just about high-end, record breaking vehicles like the 9-second Demon. The Dodge Challenger also offers the cheapest V8 in its class, a 5.7L Hemi 345 V8, while also offering the 6.4L Hemi 392 above that. Chevrolet, meanwhile, has the most expensive. Even with the 2020 Camaro LT1 trim level, its – admittedly fantastic – 455 horsepower 6.2L V8 is still roughly $1,200 more than a 375 hp Hemi Challenger. True, however, that at least now Chevy is within striking distance in terms of price. And with significantly more power than the 5.7L Hemi, as well.
Chevrolet does have a smaller 355 hp 5.3L V8 that it uses in the 2019 Silverado 1500. However, there are currently no plans for the Camaro to offer two naturally aspirated V8 engines in the lineup.
“It’s really important that the 5.7L V8 stays strong (in the lineup),” says Hellman. “That’s where you start getting that emotional piece of the muscle car. You turn it on, and it sounds good. You can say you got a Hemi V8 – that’s all part of why some one wants this car. That’s an important step in our lineup to get people in there… it’s about having that full experience in driving the car.”
Moreover, in a market environment that is pushing more and more electrification, the V8 engine stubbornly remains part of the muscle car ethos. Tampering with that formula risks alienating its core audience, according to Hellman.
“All of the data that we have says the (muscle car) customer is buying for the V8. Because it’s loud and because of the power, and everything else,” Hellman pointed out. “I think we are still in a great position right now for the future of our buyers. We’re not trying to be everything to everyone, because that’s not what this car is intended for. This car is intended for somebody who enjoys driving and uses it more than just an appliance.”
Will Dodge continue to be a safe harbor for muscle car enthusiasts? They’re doing a good job so far.