Dodge’s New Muscle Car Lineup Defies Green Movement

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At the press preview of the 2014 New York Auto Show, Honda had its uber-efficient 2015 Fit on display; BMW (BMAXY.PK) was offering rides in its first all-electric car, the i3; and Toyota  gave attendees a taste of a zero-emissions future with a trip on board a fuel-cell vehicle. You couldn’t help but feel that green movement taking hold of the U.S. auto industry. Then Dodge barreled in with a ferocious muscle car lineup for 2015, showing how confident Fiat Chrysler (FIATY.PK) executives are in the bright future of retro performance cars.

Dodge didn’t sheepishly introduce this new wave of muscle. To the contrary, the Fiat Chrysler brand nearly blew off the doors of the Javits Center’s main room with a press conference that was part heavy metal concert, part celebration of 100 years of Dodge, and part salute to the iconic muscle cars of the Big Three era. Once the smoke had cleared, Dodge’s 2015 Challenger and 2015 Charger could be seen in all their glory.

While the legendary Mustang will shed weight and offer a four-cylinder model for 2015, Dodge made sure to pack a more powerful engine in its new Challenger. The new lineup will include the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (306 horsepower), the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 (375 hp, 410 lb-ft torque), and a thunderous 6.4-liter Hemi V8 in the Scat Pack trim that pushes the power to 485 hp with 475 lb-ft of torque. With the “Shaker” mounted in the middle of the Challenger hood, Dodge brought the car back to its 1971 model roots. Power quotients were cleverly increased along with fuel economy in the 2015 Charger SXT.

Is the muscle-bound strategy working for Dodge? The sales numbers suggest it’s paying off in spades.

2015 Challenger

Dodge President and CEO Tim Kuniskis told the NY Auto Show crowd that sales of the Challenger and Charger have increased over each of the past five years, which is remarkable because the models did not receive noteworthy makeovers before the current upgrades. Kuniskis also noted that the average Dodge buyer is six years younger than the average in the auto industry as a whole. Add the two together and the idea to continue pushing the retro muscle angle makes sense for Dodge.

In the case of the 2015 Charger SXT, Dodge managed to push the power to 300 hp and 264 lb-ft of torque while delivering fuel economy of 31 mpg through an exterior overhaul that removed some of the clunkiness of the outgoing Charger. Dodge’s Tim Kuniskis said the redesigned Charger shed some of its bulk to give customers a sense of its efficiency. As a result, the new Charger has elements of the Dart’s sleeker DNA.

Pushing the youthful energy of the Dodge brand is a central part of the automaker’s marketing campaign. While Honda is pushing quirkiness and efficiency to a tech-friendly clientele, Dodge is pushing pure driving passion to a young driver with an old-school mentality. The two companies’ press conferences were crystallizations of the divergent efforts. While Honda presented a dull chat that ended with Asimo the robot doing dance moves, Dodge nearly blew out the Javits Center’s speakers with roaring V8 engines and blaring rock music.
2015 Honda Fit

With the 41-mpg subcompact Fit on stage, it’s easy to see why the press swarmed over a robot rather than the automaker’s new vehicle debut in New York. Other automakers made appeals to the heart-racing thrills of driving automobiles.

For Toyota, that appeal has been lost for Camry drivers in the vehicle’s long existence. The 2015 Camry aims to bring back a little of the flash drivers traditionally looked for in their cars. After all, cars were a primary feature of an individual’s representation for decades — especially in America, where the Camry has been the industry’s top selling car for over a decade.

Nonetheless, Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda issued a mandate years ago for the company to re-inject that heart-pumping excitement into its vehicles. It’s easy to see the effort in the new lineup from Lexus and, to a lesser extent, the 2015 Camry. Fiat Chrysler doesn’t need a mandate to push that element in its Dodge brand. President Tim Kuniskis said the two are inseparable.

There’s only one Dodge and we’ve got a DNA that’s just not like the others,” Kuniskis told the crowd at the New York Auto Show. “It’s a brand that takes its performance seriously because performance has always been the core of our DNA.”

As long as gas prices remain reasonable and drivers continue to lust for power, that philosophy will work just fine.