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Don’t panic: Dodge Challenger getting electric boost

by David Zatz on

According to Detroit News, FCA CEO Mike Manley told the News’ Henry Payne that the Dodge Challenger’s “aging two-ton chassis and thirsty engines” will be “replaced in the next decade” (quotes are from the article, not necessarily Manley himself).

Scat Pack 1320 Burnout Front

Many covering this revelation assumed Manley was talking about the next-generation Challenger and Charger, which are due in the next year or two (most have them pegged as 2021s, launching in 2020). Past Allpar sources have suggested that this new generation will use aspects of the current L-series, the new Alfa Romeos, and possibly some updates from Maserati’s Ghibli and Quattroporte.

It’s possible that FCA is planning a two-stage move from the current Lx bodies, the first one keeping the ability to hold Hellcats and 392s, and the second making more use of newer technologies. FCA is more than capable of doing performance-oriented hybrids, but the market still seems to want big V8s more than anything else. In, say, 2028,  smaller and lighter may become the watchwords. The goal is two-fold: to make CAFE numbers, and to avoid defeats at the track from cars with lower horsepower but lighter bodies and better-balanced powertrains.

Hellcrate: Hellcat crate engine

Performance-based hybrid cars are going to be coming from every direction, including Chevrolet’s Corvette. Their advantage is instant torque from startup; the gasoline engine can be optimized for high revs, rather than full-range power, and the electric motors can take up the “instant-on” duties. That way, automakers can use a smaller, lighter V8, with big motors at all four wheels for an instant boost, to provide better performance, more predictably. At the same time, they can do a lighter, smaller body, which is a great boon to the vast majority of cars ordered without 700-797 horsepower engines.

One issue with the big V8s: the Hellcat and 392 add size and weight to the entire lineup. To fit a 797 horsepower engine takes a certain amount of space—which means weight; the torque also requires added body and powertrain strength—which means weight. That’s fine when competing against Mustangs and Camaros that are roughly the same weight, but the competition won’t stay where they are.

2019 Ram 1500 hybrid

With regard to other engine options for the Charger and Challenger: several sources (including those of Allpar) have claimed that the 5.7 Hemi’s days are numbered. The article itself quotes a Ward’s Auto analyst as saying the replacement could be the Pentastar V6 with twin turbos and mated to an electric motor; that’s possible, but less likely than simply copying the Ram 1500 Pentastar-plus-mild-hybrid formula for the base engine.  The advantage of this: it’s already been done once, so adapting it for a new car will be relatively cheap. The Pentastar also has some issues with forced induction; Ferrari itself could only get 404 horsepower out of it. Dodge has a somewhat smaller budget.

The real 5.7 killer would be the GME T6, a straight six still in development which is said to be earmarked for the Wagoneer first. With or without an electric motor, this should be a good torquer, and just might beat the 5.7’s horsepower ratings.

As for the Pentastar, it could be replaced or supplemented by  the Jeep Wrangler’s four-cylinder-turbo-plus-mild-hybrid setup, which has, again, already been developed and used. That would be more efficient, but some people just don’t want four-cylinders.

There have been rumors for quite a while regarding the 392 Hemi’s replacement; it’s a satisfying engine, with brute force at any speed. If Dodge is serious about dropping the size and weight of the Charger and Challenger, though, it’ll need to be smaller and offset some of that magic torque to motors at the wheels, reducing the twisting-the-car force that would reduce my own classic to a pretzel.

Is Dodge courageous or crazy enough to make a full line of hybrid cars? It’s hard to tell, but the Ram 1500 has two hybrid versions and just one gasoline-only option. That could tell us a lot about the future.

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