Will Credits Be Enough to Save Dodge’s High-Output V8s?

Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet
Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

While FCA officially announces that it has created a fleet of 105 low-emissions and alternative fuel vehicles for this year’s Expo Milano, which is based around sustainability, there is trouble brewing back at home in the land of the free where CEO Sergio Marchionne is stuck defending cars like the Hellcat and his choice to keep its 707-horsepower V8 available to millions of power-hungry dudes.

Since environmental stewardship is the cornerstone for this year’s Expo, FCA recently announced this has “always been a key priority” for the company, even when it continues to be dogged for being one of the biggest gas guzzlers in the auto game. FCA contests these allegations, saying that they are “fully committed to developing solutions that will enable us to continuously improve our production processes, eliminate waste, use natural resources efficiently and minimize the impact of our activities on the environment in every step of the value chain.”

But with stricter economy and emission standards edging closer every day, Fiat Chrysler refuses to release the iron grip that holds the reins to all of its V8 offerings. Marchionne told Automotive News last month that while it is growing increasingly difficult for the company to comply with stricter federal fuel laws, he has no intention of discontinuing the monstrous motors that make Dodge the most money.

“One of the things that we learned to do is how to buy stuff,” Marchionne said. “We buy credits… The purchase and sale of [clean air] credits is actually more efficient than capital today.”

Yet despite the company’s buying of clean air credits in order to side-step any environmental restrictions, even the most simplistic four-cylinder engines it makes somehow fall behind every other automaker in both fuel economy and emissions. According to the EPA, “FCA was the industry’s largest purchaser of emissions credits for the 2013 model year,” (which was the most recent year for which figures are available), and purchasing most of its credits from Tesla.

This may sound like a sneaky way of temporarily getting out of the line of fire, but this is actually a sanctioned practice overseen by the EPA, where credits replace currency, so that automakers can negate any carbon footprints they might leave in their wake by garnering emission tokens via the sale of other vehicles.

Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

While FCA has made a few moves to turbocharge smaller engines, like the ones being outfitted on certain models of the Jeep Renegade, it has been resistant to the idea of adding forced induction systems to V6 powerplants and instead has opted to increase the horsepower of its current line of V8s in retaliation. It’s kind of hard to blame Marchionne for remaining hardheaded about not wanting to give up on the most powerful engines on the planet; supercharged Hellcat models have been a huge hit for the automaker, and not offering a RAM truck with a Hemi V8 just sounds… foolish.

Nevertheless, the credits will eventually run out, and at that point everyone’s going to be screwed, so FCA knows that it had better come up with a solution fast if it wants to keep up with the times and avoid some serious fines. In his interview with Automotive News, its CEO said that “The biggest challenge for me now is to find truly a compact and midsize car solution that is actually [greenhouse gas] positive, by a stretch.”

From what was gathered it looks like FCA is already on the move, as Marchionne admits that he’s “got a bunch of kids who are sitting in the basement tearing apart the front end to find out whether we can find a way out.” But will the solution arrive in time to rescue a group that has been plagued with lackluster sales in certain segments, customer complaints in others, and recalls at every turn?

This is an extremely polarizing topic for many Americans, because while FCA markets and sells its vehicles in 150 different countries around the globe, it is here on Dodge’s home turf where the battle rages on. It’s a strange thought, considering that the V8 is one of the key components in our nation’s history that made this place so great, and to see it under attack almost seems immoral, even when we know it’s inefficient and polluting as hell. On one side there are the environmentalists, who are backed by the EPA, claiming that carbon footprints must be reduced by 2025. Standing defiantly on the other end is Marchionne, with a pocket full of emissions credits, clutching his pet Hellcat tightly in his arms, and supported by a devout band of automotive enthusiasts, who feel that taking away the V8 is like threatening to cancel Sunday night football.

Sure, a twin-turbo V6 Charger running high boost levels would still be one hell of a performer, but without the snarling roar of an angry, supercharged V8, Hellcats would sound more like “Lapcats,” and the Hemi would become a “wienie,” likely causing sales to fall even further. FCA has enough troubles to worry about right now, and the last thing it needs is a bunch of turbo headaches and a fresh round of potential recall issues. Still, on the bright side, at least this news will keep demand for their V8 platforms quite high — especially if everyone keeps thinking they are about to be phased out any moment.