Following the PSA-FCA merger that resulted in Stellantis, Dodge has been promising that it would reinvent muscle cars to become all-electric vehicles. This rattled many Mopar fans, with the hardest day being when the automaker teased what was undoubtedly an EV concept inspired by the original Dodge Charger in July. In an act of true sacrilege, it even carried the Fratzog logo worn by many Chrysler products from the era.
This week, Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis provided a loose timeline for the company’s planned EV offensive and what we might expect. He also acknowledged that the company knows that some fans of the brand are filled to the brim with trepidation at the prospect of an electric muscle car.
“We hope that we draw a different type of consumer, and keep the consumer that we have today,” Kuniskis told Automotive News during a media preview for the Roadkill Nights Powered by Dodge event. “That’s very important to us, and that’s why we want to get our concept car out next year and explain to people exactly what we’re going to do. When things go into an electrified environment, we want to explain to people: Dodge [is] muscle car first. And, by the way, it happens to have electrification to make it better.”
But Dodge’s big-engine, internal-combustion sales are still pretty healthy. The Charger enjoyed a sales increase through the first half of 2021, with the same being true for the Challenger. It also routinely sells out of its limited-edition vehicles boasting the wildest, power-house motors available on the North American market. But Stellantis’ goals now also belong to Dodge and it wants widespread electrification, a decision helped by government-backed incentivizing.
That could be easier said than done, however. Kuniskis suggested that the heart of the muscle car market settles in between $40,000 to $50,000. Unfortunately, modern EVs retailing within that sweet spot are a bunch of modestly sized hatchbacks offering modest levels of performance or slightly larger vehicles offering more power and diminished range. For the money Kuniskis is suggesting, we’re envisioning the Dodge equivalent of Ford’s Mustang Mach-E when the company decides to go full electric.
Dodge’s CEO claims that the company knows what its customers want and will be “targeting exactly what we need to do.”
For now, that involves Dodge launching a plug-in hybrid model in 2022 and a electric-only muscle car by 2024. Though management said that there will be a compressive presentation on its overall strategy in the fourth quarter of 2021, likely including a concept vehicle presentation early in 2022. Insiders have told us that will probably be foreshadowing the 2024 Dodge Challenger eMuscle (which appears in the teasers but hasn’t been confirmed yet).
Kuniskis shepherded Dodge’s image makeover from a budget-friendly brand of family haulers to an attitude-laden purveyor of muscle cars. Now he’s guiding it into an era of eco-friendly performance that he says will improve on what Dodge offers today.
This work is being done as Kuniskis makes a transition of his own working for Stellantis, which has given him the opportunity to hear from those with different perspectives.
Dodge’s importance to the merged company was evident during Stellantis’ EV Day in July, Kuniskis said, when it was one of six brands included. During that event, Kuniskis announced the electric muscle car and quipped that if a charger can make the Charger quicker, “we’re in.”
However electrified doesn’t necessarily mean battery only. Hybridization could offer the best of both worlds, with the outlet referencing discussions between David Kelleher, chairman of the Stellantis National Dealer Council, and Kuniskis from 2020. Here, it was decide that Dodge could avoid betraying its own identity “once it adds plug-ins to the mix.”
“We can be who we want to be, it’s just propelled differently,” Kelleher said. “Why can’t we have a Charger that is the fastest out there? What’s the difference? If it’s the roar of the engine, artificially put a roar in there. We can do that.”
While we’re all too aware that fake engine sounds have become an industry staple. The trend is one of many modern developments that alienate a subset of the driving public that’s seeking authentic experiences. This is particularly true amongst Mopar fans who could be defined as extremely traditional in their automotive desires.
I’m already getting a bad feeling here and Kuniskis has not assuaged my fears. When asked about output, Dodge’s CEO said output wasn’t all that important.
“You want a Hellcat with 1,200 hp? I can give it to you,” he said. “It won’t be any faster than the one you got, because all you’re going to do is spin the tires. I don’t know what the horsepower is going to be, but trust me, we won’t disappoint you.”
It’s certainly true that the ability to lay power down in a useable manner is vastly more important than numbers on the spec sheet. But muscle cars have historically been all about bragging rights, which is why they come in ridiculously vibrant color schemes, spend a lot of time at drag strips, and frequently wear their displacement like a badge of honor on the exterior. This is especially true of Dodge, which typically makes the biggest and most powerful cars for the money (another muscle car trait) despite their not always being the fastest on a track.
Our guess is that the change in corporate management sees Dodge as a particularly valuable brand for North America, with loads of heritage it can lean on, that it wants to adhere to its overarching electrification plans. It’s hard to imagine the brand building an EV that could keep pace with a middle-tier Charger/Challenger for less than $60,000 without making major sacrifices elsewhere (likely range). And it’s equally hard envisioning the typical Dodge customer wanting such a vehicle. That’s not to suggest an electric Mopar would be a failure, just that it might not have been a totally organic business decision.
“[Stellantis CEO] Carlos Tavares is a very, very smart guy, and he looked at it and he said this is very, very unexpected,” Kuniskis said regarding the planned EV rollout. “Let’s really shock the world. We’re serious about this. We’re so serious about it, we can take something that you don’t think can be electrified and we can keep it true to what it is, and keep it cool and keep growing this brand.”
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