By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
You can’t fake muscle.
Wyoming muscle-car enthusiasts are not excited about the imminent end of the gas-powered Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger. But to an electric-vehicle fan, it’s a step into the future.
Dodge announced last Monday that it will discontinue gas-powered Chargers and Challengers by December 2023, as the car maker switches to fully electric vehicles by 2024.
To some Wyoming gearheads, it’s impossible to call an electric vehicle a muscle car: The combustion engine’s guttural roar is a language of its own.
“There’s just something visceral about it,” said Ty Becker, president of Rocky Mountain Rebels car club in Riverton. “It’s good for the soul. It’s therapy for hot-rod guys.”
Becker has been in love with cars since he first knew the word for them. To him, the stuttering explosions are the car’s way of communicating its needs.
“The whine of an electric motor just doesn’t do anything for me,” he said.
Dodge on Wednesday unveiled the 2024 Dodge Charger Daytona – a fully-electric vehicle featuring sound effects resembling the roar of a combustion engine. Somewhat.
Becker said the more metallic-sounding roar could never replace a real, repeating explosion under man’s control.
“Sound effects through a speaker will never match the fell, the rumble, the smells of an internal combustion engine,” he said.
Arnie Zertuche, a Wyoming autocross racer who runs a 2015 RT Challenger, agreed.
“That’s not a muscle car. That’s just another battery-powered vehicle – like a kids’ toy you get from Walmart,” said Zertuche, who is headed to Rock Springs this weekend for a fundraiser autocross race.
Zertuche said the new Dodge looks impressive. But its synthetic roar is “totally different,” from the real thing.
Electric vehicles like the Tesla are so fast and efficient, they have their own class at autocross events. If placed in a general category, an electric car with its characteristic whisper would likely win the course.
But for Zertuche, it’s not about the speed. It’s about learning from the car and knowing how to empower it.
“I think that anyone, after listening to the EV (electric) Charger, can tell the difference between a ‘fake’ and a real muscle,” he said.
Zertuche said he didn’t want to disparage either the electric market or Dodge for their efforts, especially since electric vehicles fit well in high-emissions areas like large cities.
And yet, he added, the loss of “real” Dodge muscle altogether is “very sad.”
Dodge’s parent company, Stellantis, is in Europe and is responding to market demands there.
But the company’s American child, Dodge, might be “killing its own brand off,” said Becker.
“They’re going against what their customer base wants,” he said. “It’s still an electric car… It’s just not cool.”
Stellantis is based in the Netherlands and is subject to the European Union’s environmental trading regulations. In 2020 alone, Stellantis company Fiat Chrysler paid electric-car maker Tesla about $362 million for green credits, according to CNBC. Green credits are part of a European Union trading system by which carbon-producing companies must exchange environmental credits for the right to generate carbon-dioxide.
At least 11 American states have adopted a carbon-credit system with a maximum emissions limit.
The Inflation Reduction Act, which became law just one day after Dodge announced the end of its gas-powered muscle cars, could accelerate carbon-credit markets because it incentivizes carbon capture and other environmental strategies.
The eight-cylinder 2022 Dodge Challenger has an emissions score of 466 grams of greenhouse gas emissions per mile, according to fueleconomy.gov. The eight-cylinder 2022 Chevrolet Camaro put out 452 grams of greenhouse gases per mile; and the eight-cylinder Ford Mustang of the same year piped out 500 grams per mile.
‘They’re Tired Of Getting Beat’
Though the transition may be hard, electric cars are the way of the future, according to Patrick Lawson, co-owner of an electric charging-dock installation company, Wild West EV.
Lawson said Dodge’s shift into electric is about more than saving money amid government regulation.
“They don’t want to get left behind,” he said. “All the electric cars that are coming out are significantly faster off the line: more power, torque, response. They (Dodge) have done all they could on the gas side – and they’ve got to keep up with the times.”
Lawson wasn’t a car enthusiast until he started driving a Tesla.
Five summers ago, while hanging out at the annual Riverton car show that Becker’s club hosts, some bystanders saw Lawson’s Tesla and told him he should try it in the autocross race the next day.
Lawson did very well, and kept with it.
He now visits autocross races around the country, including the Holley High Voltage electric-only race in California.
Electric vehicles are required to make noise as a safety provision for pedestrians. Most have a faint, whispery whine.
To Lawson, Dodge’s efforts to emulate the gas-powered roar is “funny” and to some, it’s seen as hypocritical – since authorities banned Tesla from marketing a slew of “silly” sound effects such as “ice cream truck” and “horse.”
“A lot of people in the Tesla community are upset Dodge is putting out this big noisemaker and that’s OK, but putting silly sounds in a car is not,” he said.
Yet, Lawson theorized, the noisemaker may help reluctant consumers transition to the electric Charger.
Lawson is not sentimental about combustion noises.
“I’d prefer the dead silent. That’s cool to me,” he said.
Other than replacing suspension, tires, or other non-motor components, a car owner doesn’t have the same ability to enhance, or “soup up” a car with the electric engine.
But many can order an upgrade, said Lawson. And some people can hack the system.
“There are hackers that have figured out ways of modifying the software with external boxes and things that unlock the hidden power within the vehicle,” he added.
The cars also have a mind of their own. In the new Tesla, door handles “don’t exist. It just opens when you get near it,” said Lawson.
The car also decides when to go backward or forward, depending on the surroundings.
“They’re getting close to that point where somebody would not have to pay attention (while driving),” he said.