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Dodge knows who it needs to convince, but will they go along?

Dodge Charger Daytona EV Dodge Charger Daytona EV

Earlier this week, Dodge debuted the new Charger Daytona EV, its first electric muscle car. It was not without controversy. 

Not that anyone is surprised. A lot of people on the internet don’t like electric cars, and an EV that kills off a long-running family of beloved V-8 muscle cars might be the ultimate boogeyman. If you’re the type that dismisses electric cars as glorified golf carts—as many enthusiasts online do—the Charger Daytona seems almost perfectly designed to draw your ire.

We’ll back up a bit. For almost 20 years now, the modern muscle car has come to define the Dodge brand. The old Charger and Challenger were American cars of the old school, big, rear-wheel drive, and powerful. There were always V-6 base models, but the real heart of these two was a family of V-8s. The 5.7-liter entry V-8, the wonderful 392, and of course, the mighty supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat. 

As the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro got more refined, leaning into their Trans-Am road-racer heritage, the Charger and Challenger got increasingly ridiculous. Is a 707-horsepower Hellcat not enough for you? Have an 840-hp 100-octane-slurping Challenger Demon. Want similar power in a car you can haul your family in? Try on the 797-hp Charger Redeye for size. We’ll even finance you for 84 months!

Despite these platforms being ancient in car terms—the Charger debuted in 2005, the Challenger in 2008—they sold extremely well. Despite the brilliance of the sixth-gen Camaro, the Challenger crushed it in sales and routinely nipped at the Mustang’s heels. It’s no exaggeration to say that muscle cars sustained the Dodge brand.

We can’t speak for all buyers, but it was easy to see the appeal. Driving one of these, especially the higher horsepower models, felt illegal. So much speed, so much noise, so little refinement. They appealed to our baser instincts. I live in a polite middle-to-upper-middle-class neighborhood in New York City. Once while testing a Charger Daytona, I fired it up while parents shuttled their young kids to school. The thing barked to life with an obnoxious roar. I was uncharacteristically the enemy, and frankly, it ruled.

The salad days are over. Stellantis doesn’t have many clean, efficient vehicles in its lineup, and until this week, no EVs in the US. Absent those, the V-8s had to go, and so Stellantis made the controversial decision to both kill the Hemi in all but heavy-duty pickup trucks and make an all-electric version of its iconic muscle car. With Ford standing defiant behind the V-8 in the Mustang and the Biden administration likely pushing back lower emissions targets, it seems like Stellantis made the wrong choice. 

At a media preview event for the Charger Daytona, Dodge boss Tim Kuniskis talked about letting customers warm up to the idea of an electric muscle car. That’s why it debuted the Charger Daytona concept in August 2022. But, people haven’t warmed up to the idea yet.

It probably doesn’t matter that the Charger Daytona will do a lot of what muscle-car buyers want. It’s going to be incredibly quick in a straight line, make a lot of noise and vibration thanks to convoluted systems engineered to mimic what we love about internal combustion, and it’s even got donut and burnout modes. The Charger Daytona is also huge and heavy, as was its predecessor.

But the appeal of the old cars is that they were anachronisms. A middle finger to polite society. Dodge so desperately wants the new Charger Daytona to be the same, but being an EV, it can never be perceived that way, rightly or wrongly. Regardless of how good the Charger Daytona is, and how hard Dodge worked on it, it’s hard to imagine it being a success. 

Dodge, to its credit, seems to know exactly who it needs to convince. A line from a bizarre promotional video staring Kuniskis released yesterday is illuminating:

 “Most people think electric cars are supposed to save the planet, electric cars are supposed to be green and politically correct, so this thing must be super efficient and environmentally friendly, right? I don’t know, maybe, but that was never the point. The point was they told us we couldn’t sell Hemis, but they never told us that we had to be boring and slow. So we took the rules, found the gray areas, and used them, used them against them to build a muscle car, to build a Dodge muscle car and slide it under the wire that the regulators threw down in front of us like spike strips.”

It’s us versus them. But Dodge can say whatever it wants about the new Charger Daytona, and it can build an excellent muscle car. Yet it’s still an EV, and ultimately, that’s what the man wants. Dodge is giving in. It’s turning its back on the “never-surrender” mentality, it’s building a car that’s a hell of a lot better for the environment than anything it’s made before. 

In the video, Kuniskis rails against “the system.” The old Charger and Challenger were made for people who wanted to do exactly that. But is there any world in which an EV, no matter how inefficient, loud, or quick, can be seen as “not politically correct” by those sorts of people? Frankly, it’s hard to imagine.

Maybe people will warm up to it. Time will tell, but it’s hard to be optimistic. 

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