THE HELLCAT IS DEAD
Perspective comes with age – the longer you live, the more you can put events into perspective.
I’ve been saying for years that we are witnessing the golden age of muscle cars as we know it.
Never again in history will we hear the thump of an aggressive cam, the whine of a supercharger, or the whistle of a blow-off valve.
At last, we know the exact date that the muscle car will be dead forever.
As the world moves to ever-tightening emissions standards on its way to the extinction of internal combustion engines, we’ve seen some amazing cars in the past few years.
It would be hard to argue that the muscle cars of today are the very best iteration of their respective platforms.
Cars like the Mustang, the Camaro, the Dodge Chargers and Challengers provide better handling, better braking and better acceleration than ever before.
The build quality of each of these cars is as good as they’re going to get.
But with emission regulations tightening, Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis said in a recent interview that the Hellcats could not meet the standards for passenger cars.
While the Hellcat engine would still be available in the Ram 1500 TRX and Cherokee Trackhawk until 2023, but after that, the 6.2L 700 plus horsepower Hellcat engine is gone.
And so the end of the Hellcat engine cars will take place in 2024.
This event will be immediately followed by the release of Dodge’s first-ever, all-electric muscle car.
For Tim Kuniskis, CEO of Dodge, electrification is the natural evolution of performance and muscle cars, and any technology that puts more power in the hands of drivers and makes them go faster deserves to be leveraged.
Consider this: during the presentation, the automaker hinted at 0-60 mph times as quick as two seconds.
That sounds great, except that these new electric cars won’t make any sounds other than an electronic whirr.
Is a muscle car really a muscle car if it doesn’t make a sound? Not in my opinion.
Oh, well. Dodge has had a good run and they’ve come a long way from their troubles in the 1980s and 1990s.
Back then, they struggled with uninteresting cars like the Dodge Spirit, the Stratus, the Avenger, the Dodge Intrepid and the Dodge Neon.
The only true sports car in the brand was the Viper.
Mario Andretti once told me that the scariest car he ever drove on a track was the Dodge Viper. If there was any kind of departure, the car would snap without warning and there was no recovery.
Hardly a ringing endorsement when a championship-winning racer says that your car is not well-balanced.
In 2008, Dodge had run out of ideas for new cars, or so it seems, so they chose to start producing revamped versions of their most successful muscle cars from the 1960s.
The third-generation Dodge Challenger was the result. It was shown to the world through spy photos in late 2005. In 2007, Dodge started accepting deposits. In February of 2008, the Challengers went on sale.
The third-generation Challenger was a far cry from the second-generation Charger was really a variant of the early Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupe.
The biggest engine offered for that car was a 2.6L four-banger making 105 hp in top trim. That car did 0-60 in just under 12 seconds.
As you can imagine, the third-generation Challengers have been a great success.
In 2009, the rest of the modern Challenger lineup was introduced, including the low-price V6 models and the 5.7-liter-powered R/T.
The introduction of these volume models led to a big jump in sales, reaching 25,852 units in that first year of a full lineup, but the modern car was still trailing the average numbers of the classic.
That all changed in 2010, when Dodge sold 36,791 examples of the Challenger, which beats all but the first year of the classic.
In 2011, sales climbed to around 39,000, followed by jumps to 46,000 in 2012, 51,462 in 2013, and 51,611 in 2014, which marked the end of the first sub-section of the modern era.
From 2015 to 2021, Dodge has sold an average of 61,000 cars per year in the US.
To date, from 2008 through 2021, about half a million Challengers have been sold.
The Dodge muscle cars have brought tens of thousands of new people into the automotive hobby. These new fans are from all walks of life – young and old – from every demographic and socio-economic background.
Muscle cars like the late-model Mustangs, Camaro and the Dodge offerings are the pinnacle of their respective lines. The Hellcat is arguably in the upper stratosphere of these muscle cars.
While the Big Three pivot toward electric vehicles, there are those that say that even if electric “muscle cars” are faster, is a car a muscle car if there’s no screaming engine and none of the smells that can only come from an exhaust.
That’s the whole point, I guess – to give owners better performance and to be gentler on the environment.
As noble as that sounds, are electric cars really any better for the environment when looking at the total picture?
I decided to do some research using Tesla as an example, starting with how we will recycle these electric cars at the end of their life.
The battery pack of a Tesla Model S is a feat of intricate engineering. Thousands of cylindrical cells with components sourced from around the world transform lithium and electrons into enough energy to propel the car hundreds of kilometers, again and again, without tailpipe emissions.
But when the battery comes to the end of its life, its green benefits fade. If it ends up in a landfill, its cells can release problematic toxins, including heavy metals.
And recycling the battery can be a hazardous business, according to scientists.
Cut too deep into a Tesla cell, or in the wrong place, and it can short-circuit, combust, and release toxic fumes or start a fire.
That’s just one of the many problems confronting researchers, including Thompson, who are trying to tackle an emerging problem: how to recycle the millions of electric vehicle (EV) batteries that manufacturers expect to produce over the next few decades.
The fact is that current EV batteries “are really not designed to be recycled.
That wasn’t much of a problem when EVs were rare. But now the technology is taking off.
As more and more carmakers phase out combustion engines, industry analysts predict at least 145 million EVs will be on the road by 2030, “People are starting to realize this is an issue.”
Governments are inching toward requiring some level of recycling.
In 2018, China imposed new rules aimed at promoting the reuse of EV battery components. When it comes to pollution, countries like China and India have been anything BUT environmentally friendly.
The European Union is expected to finalize its first requirements this year.
In the United States, the federal government has yet to advance recycling mandates, but several states, including California—the nation’s largest car market—are exploring setting their own rules.
And so, what do we end up with? A world where gasoline cars fade into the sunset and a replaced by greener cars – but are they really greener when you considered where the electricity comes from when these cars are built.
A study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative found that the battery and fuel production for an EV generates higher emissions than the manufacturing of an automobile. But those higher environmental costs are offset by EVs’ superior energy efficiency over time.
One must question this study because it only looked at one manufacturer and did NOT take into consideration how electricity is produced in gross-polluting countries like China and India.
All these considerations and challenges have been reviewed by governments around the world and we no longer have a voice – Electric cars are coming.
By 2030, in many countries, you won’t even be able to buy a new car that has an internal combustion engine.
And just like what has happened with cars from the 1960s, when all sales of gas cars end, a cottage industry will sprout up to support all the muscle cars of today, probably well into 2070 and beyond.
Will Collectors Keep the Hellcat Alive?
I wonder what a last-year, low-mile Hellcat will sell for in 2070. We can only hope that when the Hellcat is dead, collectors will resurrect, restore and preserve those that remain in circulation.