The Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept is shown. Gas-powered muscle cars will be approaching their final Saturday night cruises for years to come as automakers begin to replace them with super-fast, battery-powered cars. (Stellantis via Associated Press)
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PONTIAC, Michigan — Thunderous gas-powered muscle cars, a staple of American culture for decades, will be approaching their final Saturday night cruises in the coming years as automakers begin to replace them with super-fast, battery-powered cars.
Stellantis’ Dodge brand, long the flag bearer of the company formerly known as Fiat Chrysler, is officially transitioning to electricity. On Wednesday night, Dodge unveiled a battery-powered Charger Daytona SRT concept car, which is close to a concept car that will be produced in 2024 when the sun sets on some petroleum models.
Stellantis says it will stop making gasoline versions of the Dodge Challenger and Charger muscle cars and the Chrysler 300 big car by the end of next year. The Canadian factory that makes them is being converted into electric vehicles. Other automakers are moving — or have moved — in the same direction.
General Motors has announced that it will build an all-electric Chevrolet Corvette. Tesla says its Model S Plaid version is the fastest production vehicle made, capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in less than 2 seconds. Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and other European car manufacturers already have powerful electric models for sale. And Polestar, an electrically powered spin-off from Volvo, has just announced a new Polestar 6 roadster for 2026.
One of the reasons for the shift in the industry is that electric vehicles are simply faster off the starting line. Their handling is usually better too, as their heavy batteries create a low center of gravity.
Stricter government pollution requirements are also another factor. As automakers in the US face stricter fuel-efficiency requirements passed by the Biden administration and produce a wider range of EV vehicles, they will have to ditch some of their gas-powered muscle-car models.
Tim Kuniskis, CEO of the Dodge brand, said the possibility of government fines for not meeting gas mileage requirements has accelerated the move to the electric charger. “Compliance fines and stuff like that associated with a big cast iron supercharged V8, yeah it’s tough,” he said.
I think we’ll probably still have some internal combustion for most of the decade. But more and more the focus will be on the electric.
–Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst at Guidehouse Insights
Still, it will be a few more years before the gas-powered classics are gone.
“I think we’re going to have some internal combustion for the next few years, probably for most of the decade,” said Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “But the focus will increasingly be on the electric.”
Under new gas mileage standards unveiled in April, the fleet of new vehicles will need to average about 40 miles per gallon by 2026, up from 25.4 mpg now, the EPA says. The standards are likely to become even stricter in the future, a trend that will force US-based automakers to ditch some gasoline-powered muscle cars if they want to avoid fines.
Of all the major automakers, the EPA says, Stellantis had the lowest average fuel economy — 21.3 miles per gallon — and the highest average carbon dioxide emissions. So the company will probably have to scrap some models to avoid fines. Its limited-edition Charger SRT Widebody, with a supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi Hellcat V-8, for example, only gets 12 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway.
For many gearboxes, the thought of a muscle car without sound and smell is heresy. But Kuniskis says Dodge is working hard to match the electrical experience with the internal combustion. The Charger, he said, will generate its own airflow to make an exhaust sound similar to cars with gasoline engines. And the transmission will shift.
When the electric charger was driven through a garage door and entered a building at a racetrack in Pontiac, Michigan Wednesday night, it roared just like a gas truck.
Electric vehicles, Kuniskis said, have the potential to outperform gas muscle cars with fast acceleration. But he said they are quite sterile. “It doesn’t have the emotion. It doesn’t have the drama. It doesn’t have the kind of dangerous feeling that ICE (an internal combustion engine) has when it’s loud and rumbling and the car shifts and moves.”
Kuniskis wouldn’t say how fast the electric charger will go from zero to 60 mph, but said it would be faster than the company’s current petroleum performance cars. He wouldn’t say what the range per charge is for the new Challenger either, but he added that range isn’t as important as making it a proper muscle car.
Rick Nelson, the owner of Musclecar Restoration & Design in Pleasant Plains, Illinois, near Springfield, warned that switching from loud fuel-burning engines to quiet electricity can be a tough sell for vintage cars who grew up with the sounds and smells of racing. .
Nelson, 61, said he restored his first car when he was a teenager and spent hours on drag strips. He acknowledged that the switch to electricity is inevitable and necessary to attract a new generation accustomed to quiet speed. Still, he said, electric muscle cars won’t have manual shifters and he’ll miss the smell of race fuel on the track.
Nelson said companies are popping up to put electric powertrains in classic muscle cars. He’s been in touch with an engineer at Tesla about retrofitting batteries and electric motors into some classic cars.
“Guys like me will just frown and laugh about it,” Nelson said of electric muscle cars. “But this isn’t about my generation.”
Kuniskis says the shift to electricity isn’t the end of the muscle car. It’s just a new era.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Let us show you what the future looks like.”