The Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept appears. Gas-powered muscle cars will be shutting down on their last Saturday night cruises in the coming years as automakers begin replacing them with ultra-fast, battery-powered cars. (Stellantis via The Associated Press)
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Pontiac, Michigan. Powerful gas-powered cars, for decades a fixture in American culture, will approach their last Saturday night cruises in the coming years as automakers begin to replace them with superfast battery-powered cars.
The Stellantis’ Dodge brand, which has long been the performance flag bearer for the company formerly known as Fiat Chrysler, is officially moving toward electric. On Wednesday night, Dodge unveiled the battery-powered Charger Daytona SRT concept car, close to one that will be produced in 2024 as the sun sets on some petrol models.
Stellantis says it will stop making petrol versions of the Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars and the big Chrysler 300 by the end of next year. The Canadian plant that makes them will be converted to electric cars. Other automakers are moving — or have moved — in the same direction.
General Motors has said it will build an all-electric Chevrolet Corvette. Tesla says its Model S Plaid version is the fastest production vehicle, capable of going from zero to 60 mph in less than two seconds. Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and other European automakers already have high-performance electric models for sale. Polestar, Volvo’s electric performance spin-off, has announced a new Polestar 6 Roadster for 2026.
One reason the industry is shifting is that electric cars are simply faster off the starting line. They usually handle better too, as their heavy batteries create a low center of gravity.
Stricter government pollution requirements are another factor, too. As US automakers face tougher fuel-economy requirements adopted by the Biden administration and produce a wider range of electric vehicles, they will have to phase out some gas-powered muscle car models.
Tim Kuniskis, CEO of the Dodge brand, said the prospect of government fines for not meeting gas mileage requirements is accelerating the switch to the electric charger. “Compliance fines and things like that are connected to the supercharged, cast iron V8 engine that, yeah, it’s tough,” he said.
I think we’ll continue to have some internal combustion materials, probably through most of the decade. But increasingly, the focus will be on electricity.
— Sam Abu Samid, Guidehouse Insights Research Analyst
However, it will take a few years for the gas-powered classics to disappear.
“Over the next several years, I think we’ll continue to have some internal combustion materials, probably for most of the decade,” said Sam Abuelsamid, Research Analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “But the focus will increasingly be on electricity.”
Under new gas mileage standards unveiled in April, the new vehicle fleet will have to average about 40 miles per gallon in 2026, up from 25.4 miles per gallon now, the EPA says. Standards are likely to get stronger in the future, a trend that will force US-based automakers to ditch some gasoline-powered muscle cars if they want to avoid fines.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that of all the major automakers, Stellants had the lowest average fuel economy — 21.3 miles per gallon — and the highest average CO2 emissions. So it is likely that the company will have to cancel some forms to avoid fines. The limited-edition SRT Purchased V8, with its supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi Hellcat V8, gets just 12 mpg in city driving and 21 mpg on the highway.
For many gear heads, the thought of a muscle car without the noise and smell is heresy. But Kuniskis says Dodge is working hard to make the electric experience fit with internal combustion. He said the supercharger would generate its own airflow to create an exhaust noise that rivals gas-performance cars. The transmission will change gears.
When the electric charger was pushed through a garage door and into a building Wednesday night at a racetrack in Pontiac, Michigan, it looked just like a gas-powered muscle car.
Electric cars have the potential to perform better than gaseous muscle cars with rapid acceleration, Kuniskis said. But he said they were kind of sterile. “She doesn’t have the emotion. She doesn’t have the drama. She doesn’t have the kind of dangerous feeling an internal combustion engine (ICE) gets when it’s rattling and rattling and moving and moving around a car.”
Kuniskis didn’t say how fast the electric charger can go from zero to 60 mph, but he said it would be faster than the company’s current petroleum performance cars. He also didn’t say range per charge for the new Challenger, but added that range isn’t nearly as important as making it a true muscle car.
Rick Nelson, owner of Musclecar Restoration & Design in Pleasant Plains, Illinois, near Springfield, warns that the switch from noisy fuel-powered engines to quiet electric can be hard to sell to seniors who have grown up with the sounds and smells of racing..
Nelson, 61, said he got his first car back as a teenager and spent hours in tow strips. He acknowledged that the transition to electricity was inevitable and required to attract a new generation accustomed to the slow pace. However, he said, electric muscle cars will not have manual shifters, and he will lose the smell of racing fuel on the track.
Companies are already emerging to put electric motors into classic muscle cars, Nelson said. He’s been in touch with an engineer at Tesla about modifying the batteries and electric motors on some classics.
“Men like me will boo and laugh at him,” Nelson said of electric muscle cars. “But this is not about my generation.”
Switching to electric doesn’t mean the end of the muscle car, Kuniskis says. It’s just a new era.
He said, “It’s okay.” “Let’s show you what the future looks like.”
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