Dodge carved out a lucrative niche by democratizing high-horsepower V8s during the 2010s, but it predicts engines like the 392 and the Hellcat face a grim future. Although it will need to adopt electrification sooner rather than later, the firm stressed that its looming shift away from the V8 won't come at the expense of performance.
"The days of an iron block supercharged 6.2-liter V8 are numbered. They're absolutely numbered because of all the compliance costs. But the performance that those vehicles generate is not numbered," asserted division chief Tim Kuniskis in an interview with CNBC. Regulations are currently looser in the United States than in Europe, where emissions-related penalties place the Jeep Wrangler deep into luxury car territory, but CNBC pointed out the Biden administration is widely expected to announce stricter emissions regulations in the near future.
Kuniskis clarified that demand for horsepower remains healthy; Dodge has built over 50,000 Hellcat-powered cars since 2014, and it easily filled the 2,000 available Durango SRT Hellcat build slots. Sister division Ram made 702 units of the 1500 TRX Launch Edition and sold them all in 10 minutes in spite of a $90,265 base price. The 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat V8 deserves the Nobel Prize in Performance for bringing jaw-dropping horsepower figures to non-exotic cars and ushering in what Kuniskis described as the new golden age of muscle cars.
We've been here before, though. The muscle car's first golden age ended abruptly in similar circumstances.
"1972 was the beginning of the end of the golden age of muscle cars. They went away for fuel economy, for the oil crisis. They went away for safety. They went away for insurance, and they went away for increasing emission standards. It's kind of crazy to think about we're getting close to a similar list of things right now," he explained.
Electrification can help ensure enthusiasts don't suddenly pivot from a golden age to a dark age. Kuniskis told CNBC that he views electric technology as performance 2.0, and that we'll start seeing battery-powered drivetrains with Hellcat-rivaling horsepower figures as soon as the cost of the components comes down.
Kuniskis confirmed Dodge will begin adding electric and plug-in hybrid models to its range in the coming years. He stopped short of revealing the type of technology it will roll out across its line-up, or which cars will get it, but the Durango, the Charger, and the Challenger are all due to be replaced in the early 2020s. And, some of the hardware that sister company Jeep uses to build its 4xe powertrain, like an electric motor integrated into an eight-speed automatic transmission and a lithium-ion battery pack, could relatively easily end up in Dodge models.
Put another way, the Dodge range will likely look a lot different in, say, 2025, than it does in 2021. Its cars will be quieter, but they'll still be able to roast their tires, and they'll continue to be exceptionally quick.
"I'm super excited about the future of electric because I think it's what's going to allow us not to fall off the cliff. Without that technology, without electrification, this is 1972 right now, and this thing is going to end," he said.