Home System concept GM, Ford and Dodge electric muscle cars face latest EV transition test

GM, Ford and Dodge electric muscle cars face latest EV transition test

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Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis unveils the Charger Daytona SRT concept electric muscle car on August 17, 2022 in Pontiac, Michigan.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

PONTIAC, Michigan — At an event featuring upbeat ’80s music and $2 beers this week, Dodge unveiled a concept for its first electric muscle car that featured an exhaust system and transmission with several speeds.

The features are not necessary for an electric vehicle, but could be essential to appeal to die-hard performance vehicle enthusiasts.

“Sound is an essential component,” said Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis. “And the gear change is key…we’ve been driving in circles the longest. It doesn’t make the car any faster…but it’s a lot more engaging and a lot more fun to drive.”

As Detroit’s legacy automakers rush to switch to electric vehicles, they’re also trying to win over longtime auto fans who love the sound of growling V-8 engines and the feel of shifting gears that gives them a visceral connection with cars.

The heyday of muscle car sales dates back decades, but the vehicles have become cultural touchstones that create mass awareness for brands and their customers remain loyal ambassadors. This hype can create a halo effect for other models that translates into sales.

In recent years, Tesla has created a cult following for its electric vehicles thanks to its sleek, state-of-the-art vehicles and buzzing motors. But Detroit’s Dodge, Chevrolet and Ford brands have loyalties stretching back generations in the family, and traditional automakers are still looking to engage those enthusiasts as they electrify their fleets.

Dodge shows his hand

Dodge this week became the first of Detroit’s traditional performance brands to announce plans for how to retain muscle car customers. At the event in Pontiac, Michigan, the company showed off its Charger Daytona SRT concept ahead of its first production electric muscle car in 2024.

Kuniskis called it the one that regulators and environmentalists who support electric vehicles “don’t want you to have” because of its performance, modernized retro styling and new patent-pending technologies.

“It was important to visually bring back something that they were going to watch and become sacred—, they did it well!” Kuniskis told CNBC this week.

Aspects of the concept car’s design, including an exhaust system and multi-speed transmission, are expected to negatively impact the vehicle’s electric range, but Kuniskis said that’s not something Dodge wants. cared. He said the goal was to make the car feel and drive like a traditional muscle car.

Josh and Darla Welton of Detroit stand near a muscle car on display at a Dodge event on August 17, 2022 in Pontiac, Michigan.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

It’s essential for automotive fans like Josh and Darla Welton, who own several vehicles, including the infamous Dodge Challenger SRT Demon, which some condemned during its production due to its power as a race car. legal dragsters.

“To keep the excitement going, you’re going to have to engage the driver rather than having a self-driving, self-driving car,” said Josh Welton, 44, who wore limited-edition “SRT Demon” sneakers made in partnership with Dodge and Warren Lotas. “They want to be involved in what’s going on.”

Pete Seguin, a 62-year-old auto technician from Ottawa, Ont., was also on hand at the event to show his support for Dodge’s SRT Hellcat with an “SRT” and Hellcat logo tattooed on his right forearm.

Pete Seguin (L), of Ottawa, Ontario, shows off his “SRT” Hellcat tattoo while standing with his brother Robert Seguin, of Gatineau, Quebec, at a Dodge event on August 17, 2022 in Pontiac, Michigan.

Michael Wayland/CNBC

In transition

Ford Motor and General Motors have yet to unveil their plans for their respective brands and performance vehicles.

GM has confirmed plans to produce hybrid and all-electric models of its acclaimed Chevrolet Corvette sports car in coming years, but Detroit’s largest automaker has remained silent on the future of the Chevy Camaro, which has suffered a drop in sales since a redesign of the vehicle in 2016. Performance enthusiast websites such as Muscle Cars & Trucks have said the company is expected to end production of the Camaro in 2024.

The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 costs around $62,000 and is powered by a 650 horsepower V8 engine, a huge improvement over the base model of around $26,000.

Source: General Motors

Ford is expected to unveil the next generation of its iconic Mustang car next month, but it has given no hint that the car will be electric as part of its strategy to electrify its “most iconic nameplates”.

Since 2020, Ford has offered an all-electric crossover called the Mustang Mach-E, which is the only production vehicle other than the sports car to bear the company’s prancing horse logo.

“Dodge really played to its own strengths with its concept,” said Paul Waatti, director of industry analysis at research firm AutoPacific. “It will be interesting to see what Ford and GM have up their sleeves for that as well. I think Dodge has established a pretty good track record for those types of cars.”

People visit Ford’s Mustang Mach-E all-electric SUV at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, the United States, November 22, 2019.

Xinhua via Getty Images

He said a big challenge for automakers in moving on from today’s muscle cars with rumbling V-8s, and creating that same kind of emotional connection.

Representatives from GM and Ford declined to discuss plans beyond what was announced.

Market down

Sales of Detroit’s mainstream performance cars are down.

Current cars enjoyed popularity after the Great Recession, peaking at more than 394,000 vehicles in 2015, according to industry researcher Edmunds. But sales have since declined, including a drop of almost 50% for two-door coupes like the Challenger, Camaro and Mustang.

Many vehicles have evolved to offer smaller engines with less power, but they can still be stigmatized as noisy, gas-guzzling cars. There is also increased competition from automakers outside of Detroit, including electric vehicle makers; a shift away from cars by consumers for more practical crossovers; and a potential shift in performance culture.

“Performance has definitely felt like it’s taken a back seat lately, in this shift to electric cars, which have a different kind of performance,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive knowledge manager at Edmunds.

Combined sales of the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette, as well as the Dodge Charger and Challenger were down about 35% last year compared to 2015. They were down 25% from compared to 2019 – the last year of pre-pandemic automakers’ sales before they were hit by ongoing global supply chain issues, including a shortage of semiconductor chips.

To continue to attract buyers, Detroit automakers will have to “find a niche and a brand image,” Caldwell said.

Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, for example, did well for the automaker despite taking the form of a larger crossover rather than the sleek muscle car of its gas-powered predecessor. And Dodge’s plans, at least for now, seem to have satisfied at least some of its most loyal fans with the Charger Daytona SRT concept.

“When it unfolded, and you could see all the lines of the body and the design, I got chills,” said Darla Welton, 43.

As a lifelong Detroiter whose family worked in the auto industry, she noted the excitement of witnessing the transition from muscle cars like the Demon to electric vehicles.

“I can’t wait to get behind the wheel,” she said.

The Charger Daytona SRT concept electric muscle car was unveiled on August 17, 2022 in Pontiac, Michigan.

Michael Wayland/CNBC