American muscle may never be the same.
When the iconic and popular Dodge Challenger is redesigned sometime before the mid-2020s, the new version may come with an electrified powertrain. For informed green-car readers, it's important to make clear that that doesn't mean that any new Challenger will plug in.
Instead, Fiat Chrysler CEO Mike Manley recently told the Detroit News in an interview at the Detroit auto show, the car is likely to include a version of the company's e-Torque mild-hybrid system.
For muscle cars, he said, electrification "can't be the dominant part," of the powertrain. Rather electrification would be "deployed to increase the performance of the vehicle as its primary goal—with added benefits of fuel economy," instead of the other way around.
Translated for regular car buyers, that means the car, along with its four-door Charger sibling, could get a gas V-6 engine combined with a big electric motor that can add a lot of torque for acceleration, but isn't capable of moving he car by itself without the engine running.
Chrysler just introduced such a system on the 2019 Ram pickups with e-Torque on both V-6 and V-8 engines. Similar in concept to the belt-alternator-starter systems that General Motors used for several years on its "e-Assist" versions of the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse, it uses a small battery (0.43 kilowatt-hours) to store energy for a large, powerful motor/generator that can restart the engine as part of its stop-start system, or provide up to 90 pound-feet of extra launch torque for the V-6 or 130 pound-feet for the V-8.
E-torque comes standard on the 2019, Ram, so there's no way to compare it directly to a truck without it. The 2019 Ram 1500 quad cab V-6 with 4-wheel drive is rated at 19 mpg city, 24 highway, and 21 combined. The 2018 version (now also called the 2019 Ram 1500 Classic) is rated at 17 mpg city, 25 highway, 20 combined. With the V-8 engine, those trucks are rated at 17/22/19 for the 2019 with e-Torque, and 16/23/19 for the older model without it.
The electric power system is among the first in the industry to use 48 volts to increase power and reduce the size and weight of wiring.
Manly also suggested that the next version of the Challenger would be a performance car based on the much lighter Alfa Romeo Giulia platform, where a V-6 with a big electric assist could provide more impressive thrust. What the next Challenger won't be, he said, "is a V-8, supercharged, 700-hp engine." He did not provide any indication how soon the next Challenger or Charger might appear.
"I think that electrification will certainly be part of the formula that says what is American muscle in the future," he said.
That's a giant step for an automaker that built its business on upping the horsepower ante on its competitors, with bellowing tailpipes, howling air intakes, and smoking tires.
It could be a sign, as some have suggested, that such mild hybrid systems, which can help offset the worst inefficiencies of gas engines, allow smaller engines to generate good performance, and balance the extra power needed for acceleration with recovery of braking energy, could be the minimum standard for new internal combustion cars. If they've made their way into vehicles are bought for the bragging rights and showing off their gas power and big tailpipes, such as pickups and American muscle cars, where wouldn't they be accepted?
Here at Green Car Reports, we don't really consider such electric assist systems to be hybrids, because they can't propel the car without gasoline, and because in earlier versions the gas savings were minuscule. But as a new more efficient baseline for standard internal combustion cars, the technology seems worth celebrating.
The next-generation Challenger won't be the only muscle car with a "mild-hybrid" system. Ford has also announced just such a system, using a turbocharged four-cylinder engine (and possibly a stronger motor system) for the upcoming 2020 Mustang.
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