For the first time since American muscle returned to the assembly line for good, Dodge’s Challenger managed to outsell the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro in the United States. Although Mopar fans might point out that Dodge would win every year if we bothered to include Charger sales in the headcount or were more specific when determining what constitutes a muscle vs. pony car.
Regardless of semantics, the Big Three have their performance icons, and the Challenger took the two-door sales crown for the first time in modern history. Unfortunately, it was less about Dodge making inroads with new customers than it was about other brands. Performance vehicles aimed at the middle class are currently having a tough time, with the Challenger losing the least ground over the past decade.
Dodge’s cross-town rivals have slipped in recent years — with Ford and Chevy’s most recent records coming during the Obama administration. Blue Oval managed to move 122,349 Mustangs in the domestic market in 2015, while the Camaro peaked with 91,314 deliveries in 2012. During this period, Dodge’s Challenger could reliably count between 40,000 and 60,000 annual sales in the United States.
By 2021, Mustang volumes were down to 52,384 and the Camaro was only able to make 21,893 deliveries. Meanwhile, Dodge managed to sell 54,315 Challengers and 78,388 other Charger sedan copies to US customers.
Speculating on the reasons, your author would say that the Challengers simply make more sense as a commuter vehicle and are a relative bargain compared to what is offered by Ford and Chevrolet. They’re exceptionally comfortable, have gigantic trunks, and possibly the only coupe still around where you can comfortably seat grown adults behind the driver. The Challengers also seem tailor-made for extended stints on the highway, while the Mustang and Camaro seem more at home on back roads. But there are plenty of people out there willing to tell you that the Dodge is too big, too old and lacks the confidence of its rivals – all of which are valid criticisms.
Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis had his own thoughts on why the Challenger held its own. In a recent interview, he said Automotive News that he believed his company had weathered supply chain issues better than its main rivals. But he also said he doesn’t really see the model as directly comparable. While it’s undoubtedly a quintessentially American performance vehicle, he said the Challenger’s greatest strength is “not trying to keep up with anybody else.”
“That’s why I said we don’t wake up trying to chase Mustang and Camaro,” he explained. “Not that I don’t think they’re viable competitors. They are phenomenal cars; they are just different cars. They are different from what we are trying to do.
Kuniskis also talked about how Dodge has built a community that he says other brands lack. However, the outward message has changed as the company prepares to switch to electrified vehicles.
The brand is expected to launch a plug-in hybrid model in 2022 and a battery-electric muscle car in 2024. It will also present an electric concept this year.
Redesigned versions of the Challenger and Charger are expected to ditch internal combustion and switch to Stellantis’ electrified STLA Large platform, which is capable of up to 500 miles of range.
Kuniskis said the brand’s track record should give fans reason to consider a future of electrified muscles.
“They recognize the fact that we make different muscle cars, and so we’ll probably do electrification differently,” Kuniskis said. “And that’s why I’ve been very vocal in telling people that when we do electrification it’s going to be different. When we launch our concept car here in the next four months or so, we’re literally going to talk about how we do it differently.
As a degenerate Mopar fan myself, I’m excited to see what Dodge has planned for the future. But I don’t know many people who are so excited to see the Charger and Challenger ditch the V8 engines. Something about the rumored turbocharged inline-six hybrid also sounds sacrilegious and unsettlingly European. It could make for a stellar powertrain and even a better vehicle overall. But that seems at odds with Dodge’s existing brand image, and enthusiasts of a certain vintage are going to be turned off.
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