If They Build Them Will You Buy Them? - Autoline on Autoblog with John McElroy

I just got done driving the new Dodge Challenger SRT8 this week. And I fell in love with it. The styling snaps your eyes right to it, the proportions are gorgeous, and the performance numbers are breathtaking. But it's even more visceral than that.
The exhaust note is incredible. Put the hammer down and you get a timpani of hammers in return. The pistons pound out a symphony of sounds, and it sounds just as good backing out of the gas and it does jumping on it.

Driving this car is like driving a fighter plane. If Ford has the equivalent of the P-51 Mustang, then Dodge just built the equivalent of the P-47 Thunderbolt. It's that kind of brute.

John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers. Follow the jump to continue reading this week's editorial.

The folks at Dodge brought us out to Willow Springs race track to put the Challenger through its paces, which is the best way to test drive a performance car. It's these kinds of press launches that make me love my job. And yet, in the back of my mind I had the nagging feeling that, in a way, it was like they were taking us to the Jurassic Zoo so we could go pet the dinosaurs.

We've seen this sort of thing happen before. In the early 1970's, sales of muscle cars came to an abrupt end when emission controls, soaring gas prices and crippling insurance rates put an end to one of the most glorious eras in automotive performance. Today, it's déjà vu all over again. The auto industry is facing intensely strict fuel economy and CO2 regulations, and gasoline prices are higher than they've ever been. Can there be any question that the current horsepower war is about to come crashing to an end?

Of course, it's not over until it's over. When the Camaro comes out later this year, I've got to believe Chevy will do everything in its power to top the 425 hp available in the Challenger's 6.1 L HEMI. And then the Mustang will need something to top that. And then Dodge has a +500 hp 6.4 L version of the HEMI in the works to trump whatever they do. Don't they see what's about to happen?

If it were just about gas prices I wouldn't be too worried. After all, petrol in Europe already tops $7 a gallon in most countries, and the horsepower war is raging over there, too. But that war is being fought in the upper echelons of the market. The difference in the U.S. is that it's also being fought at prices that are not too far above the average MSRP.

Actually, the price of the Challenger SRT-8 is higher than the $37,995 MSRP that Dodge is reporting. Their press materials forget to mention a $2,100 gas guzzler tax, meaning this is really a $40,000 car.

But none of that will hurt sales-for now. Dodge already has 11,000 orders for the 6,400 Challengers SRT-8s it'll build this year. And there are a lot of rich movie and television and sports stars on the list who are not going to drop off just because of a gas guzzler tax, or because gas prices are touching $4 a gallon.

But in the not too distant future, CAFE and CO2 regs are going to drag these pony cars to the brink of extinction. Or at least the chest-thumping V8 versions. That's probably why GM let it leak out that it's already considering a turbo-4 for the Camaro. And why there are V6 versions of all these pony cars.

But here's my question: would you buy an emasculated version of a "muscle" car with a four-banger? Or one with batteries and electric motors? Or a fuel cell? Or does the industry need a new definition as to what constitutes muscle?


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