For the first time since American muscle returned to the assembly line in earnest, Dodge’s Challenger has managed to outsell both the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro inside the United States. Though Mopar fans might point out that Dodge would win every year if we bothered to include Charger sales in the headcount or were more precise when making determinations about what constitutes a muscle vs pony car.
Regardless of semantics, the Big Three have their performance icons and the Challenger has taken the two-door sales crown for the first time in modern history. Sadly, it was less about Dodge making inroads with new customers than it was about the other brands flubbing things. Performance vehicles aimed at the middle class are presently experiencing a rough patch, with the Challenger having lost the least amount of ground in the last decade.
Dodge’s crosstown rivals have been slipping the last few years — with Ford and Chevy’s most-recent highwater marks having taken place during the Obama administration. Blue Oval managed to move 122,349 Mustang domestically in 2015, while the Camaro peaked with 91,314 deliveries in 2012. During this period, Dodge’s Challenger could reliably count on between 40,000 and 60,000 U.S. sales annually.
In 2021, Mustang volumes had fallen all the way to 52,384 and the Camaro was only able to make 21,893 deliveries. Meanwhile, Dodge managed to sell 54,315 Challengers and another 78,388 examples of the Charger sedan to U.S. customers.
Speculating as to why, your author would argue that Challengers simply make more sense as a commuter vehicle and are a relative bargain compared to what’s being offered by Ford and Chevrolet. They’re exceptionally comfortable, have gigantic trunks, and maybe the only coupe left in existence where you can comfortably seat full-grown adults behind the driver. Challengers also appear custom-made for prolonged stints on the highway, whereas the Mustang and Camaro seem more at home being slung around backroads. But there are plenty of people ready to tell you that the Dodge is too damn big, too damn old, and lacks the poise of its rivals — all of which are valid criticisms.
Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis had his own ideas about why the Challenger has been holding its ground. During a recent interview, he told Automotive News that he believed his company weathered the supply chain problems better than its chief rivals. But he also said that he doesn’t really see the model as directly comparable. While undoubtedly a distinctly American performance vehicle, he said the Challenger’s greatest strength is “not trying to follow anybody else.”
“That’s why I said we don’t wake up trying to chase Mustang and Camaro,” he explained. “Not that I don’t think they’re viable competitors. They’re phenomenal cars; they’re just different cars. They’re different than what we’re trying to do.”
Kuniskis likewise discussed how Dodge has been building a community that he feels other marques lack. However the outward messaging has been changing as the company prepares to shift toward electrified vehicles.
The brand is expected to launch a plug-in hybrid model in 2022 and a battery-electric muscle car in 2024. It also will show an electric concept this year.
Redesigned versions of the Challenger and Charger are expected to drop internal combustion and move to Stellantis’ electrified STLA Large platform, which is capable of up to 500 miles of range.
Kuniskis said the brand’s track record should give fans reason to look forward to a future of electrified muscle.
“They acknowledge the fact that we do muscle cars different, and therefore we’ll probably do electrification different,” Kuniskis said. “And that’s why I’ve been very vocal to tell people when we do electrification, it will be different. When we launch our concept car here in the next four months or so, we’re literally going to lay out how we’re doing it differently.”
As a degenerate Mopar fan myself, I’m excited to see what Dodge has planned for the future. But I don’t know many people who are all that enthusiastic to see the Charger and Challenger dropping V8 engines. Something about the rumored turbocharged straight-six hybrid also feels sacrilegious and unsettlingly European. It might make for a stellar powertrain and even a better vehicle on the whole. But it feels at odds with Dodge’s existing branding and enthusiasts of a certain vintage are going to be turned off.
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