Gas-Powered Muscle Cars Drive Into The Sunset, Go Electric

Gas-Powered Muscle Cars Drive Into The Sunset, Go Electric

The Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept will be on display. Gas-powered muscle cars will be making their last Saturday night cruises for years to come, as automakers begin replacing them with super-fast cars that run on batteries. (Stellantis via Associated Press)

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PONTIAC, Mich. — Thundering gas-powered muscle cars, a staple of American culture for decades, will embark on their last Saturday night cruises for years to come, as automakers begin replacing them with super-fast cars that run on batteries.

Stellantis’ Dodge brand, long the performance flagship of the company formerly known as Fiat Chrysler, is officially moving towards electric. On Wednesday night, Dodge unveiled a battery-powered Charger Daytona SRT concept car that’s close to one that will be produced in 2024, when the sun goes down on some petroleum models.

Stellantis says it will end production of 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 transitioning to electric vehicles. Other automakers are moving – or have been moving – in the same direction.

General Motors has announced plans to build an all-electric Chevrolet Corvette. Tesla says its Model S Plaid version is the fastest production vehicle, accelerating from zero to 60 mph in under 2 seconds. Audi, Mercedes, Porsche and other European automakers already have powerful electric models on offer. And Polestar, an electric performance spin-off from Volvo, has just announced a new Polestar 6 Roadster for 2026.

One reason for the industry shift is that electric vehicles are simply faster to get started. The handling is also usually better, since the heavy batteries create a low center of gravity.

Stricter government emissions regulations are another factor. As US automakers face tougher fuel economy requirements passed by the Biden administration and produce a wider range of electric vehicles, they’ll have to ditch some of their gas-powered muscle car models.

Dodge brand CEO Tim Kuniskis said the possibility of government fines for failing to meet gas mileage requirements has accelerated the shift to the electric charger. “Compliance fines and stuff like that that comes with a big supercharged cast-iron V8, yeah it’s tough,” he said.

I think we’re going to continue to have some things with internal combustion engines, probably through most of the decade. But the focus will increasingly be on the electric ones.

–Sam Abuelsamid, Research Analyst at Guidehouse Insights

Nevertheless, it will still be a few years before the gas-powered classics disappear.

“I think we’re going to continue to have some things with internal combustion engines for the next several years, probably through most of the decade,” said Sam Abuelsamid, research analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “But the focus will increasingly be on electric vehicles.”

Under the new gas mileage standards unveiled in April, the fleet of new vehicles in 2026 must average about 40 miles per gallon, up from 25.4 mpg now, the EPA says. Standards are likely to get even stricter in the future, a trend that will force US-based automakers to dump some gas-powered muscle cars if they are 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 emissions. As such, the company will likely have to eliminate some models to avoid fines. Its limited-edition Charger SRT widebody, for example, powered by a supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi Hellcat V-8, gets just 12 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway.

For many gearheads, the thought of a muscle car with no sounds and smells is heresy. But Kuniskis says Dodge is working hard to balance the electric experience with the internal combustion engine. The Charger, he said, will generate its own airflow to create an exhaust sound that rivals gas-powered cars. And the transmission shifts gears.

The Dodge Charger Daytona SRT concept will be unveiled Wednesday in Pontiac, Mich.The Dodge Charger Daytona SRT concept will be unveiled in Pontiac, Michigan on Wednesday (Photo: Carlos Osorio, Associated Press)

When the electric Charger was driven through a garage door and into a building at a race track in Pontiac, Michigan Wednesday night, it roared like a gas-powered muscle car.

Electric vehicles, Kuniskis said, have the potential to outperform gasoline muscle cars under rapid acceleration. But he said they were kind of sterile. “It doesn’t have the emotion. It doesn’t have the drama. It doesn’t have the dangerous feel that ICE (an internal combustion engine) has when it’s loud and rumbles and the car shifts and moves.”

Kuniskis declined to 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 also wouldn’t say range per charge for the new Challenger, but added that range isn’t as important as making it a true muscle car.

Rick Nelson, the owner of Musclecar Restoration & Design in Pleasant Plains, Illinois near Springfield, warned that switching from noisy gasoline engines to quiet electricity can be difficult for classic cars who have grown up with the sounds and smells of racing could be yours.

Nelson, 61, said he restored his first car as a teenager and spent hours on drag strips. He acknowledged that the switch to electricity is inevitable and necessary to attract a new generation that has become accustomed to quiet speed. Still, he said, electric muscle cars won’t have manual shifters, and he’ll miss the smell of race gas on the track.

Already, Nelson said, companies are popping up to add electric powertrains to classic muscle cars. He got in touch with an engineer at Tesla to retrofit some classic cars with batteries and electric motors.

“People like me are just going to frown and laugh at that,” Nelson said of electric muscle cars. “But this isn’t about my generation.”

Kuniskis says the move to electric won’t mean the end of the muscle car. It’s just a new era.

“It’s okay,” he said. “We’ll show you what the future looks like.”

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