Driving The New Dodge Charger
Dan Lienert / Forbes
Chrysler has been on a roll.
Dan Lienert / Forbes
Chrysler has been on a roll.
Two of the new cars in its stable, the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Magnum, have been huge hits. Dodge has sold 65,760 Magnums in America since it introduced the wagon last May, and Chrysler has sold 169,867 of its overhauled 300 sedans since April 2004, the model's first full month of availability. Both vehicles are helping parent company DaimlerChrysler (nyse: DCX - news - people ) turn a profit. Now Daimler is hoping that a resurrected, storied nameplate, the Dodge Charger, will continue to add luster, and dollars, to the revitalized automaker.
Unlike the 300 and the Magnum, however, to many old fans of the previous incarnation, which last appeared in showrooms 27 years ago, the new Charger is a bit of a disappointment. In place of the growling, two-door muscle car of yore is a four-door family car with--gasp--an automatic transmission. In a discussion forum at AutoWeek magazine's Web site, one person's message gets right to the point: "Chargers don't have four doors."
Down the page a bit is a similar sentiment: "Why sell a souped-up four-door with a name [that] had no history with four-doors? Here's a thought: how about a four-door Ferrari sedan? Get my point?"
Yikes. Fortunately for Dodge, such musings may be like those of people who tried to save old baseball stadiums such as Comiskey Park and Tiger Stadium: traditionalist hot air that is opposed to progress and modernization.
Yes, the old Charger was one of the most sinister of all the classic Detroit muscle cars--and many moviegoers will get to see the General Lee, arguably the most famous Charger of all time, rip up the road in The Dukes of Hazzard--but the new Charger could be a success in another way: financially. The Charger is a high-volume car headed for high-volume dealers who are hungry to sell it for three reasons: (1) the Magnum needs a sedan companion, (2) the other Dodge sedans--the Neon and the Stratus--aren't exactly the hottest cars on the market and (3) Dodge needs a full-size sedan to compete with cars such as Ford Motor's (nyse: F - news - people ) Crown Victoria.
Daimler is building the Charger at its factory in Brampton, Ontario, alongside the 300 and the Magnum. The company invested $125 million to prepare the plant for Charger production, but we expect the Charger will be a success, and its profits will more than make up for the investment.
Despite the disappointment of nostalgic auto enthusiasts, it is a good bet that the Charger will succeed because it's a good car and it looks good, and that should be enough to win new fans. General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) has recently tried cashing in on a nostalgic nameplate with the resurrection of the Pontiac GTO--with limited success. The GTO, with its 400-horsepower V-8 engine, has performance credibility going for it but not much else--certainly not racy styling. With only 5,465 U.S. sales in the first five months of 2005, it is Pontiac's lowest-selling passenger car by far--and that's counting the Sunfire and Bonneville, which are headed for discontinuation.
The Charger, on the other hand, has performance, looks and practicality going for it. Best of all, it has ho-hum competitors such as the Ford Five Hundred sedan, whose V-6 engine has 137 fewer hp than the Charger's Hemi V-8.
Another reason the Charger is poised for financial success is that many if not most of its sales are likely to be of high-end models, which translate into high revenue. The Chrysler 300, a vehicle that is very similar to the Charger, has sales patterns that suggest customers are willing to complement its sexy styling with upscale options. The 300 starts in the low $20,000's, but customers tend to prefer it fully loaded--at which point the car is closer to $40,000. (The entry-level Charger starts at $22,995, including destination charges; the Hemi-powered Charger R/T that we tested starts at $29,995.)
Charger demographics could be similar to those of the Chrysler--plus, the car has an advantage. While the 300 was not a storied name to begin with, the Charger is. Even though the Charger has been out of production for decades, Dodge says 70% of U.S. car buyers are still aware of the name and correctly associate it with the Dodge brand.
All of this is great news for Dodge, which would love to have a popular passenger car on its hands, given that the Neon and Stratus are pretty passé at this point, to say the least. One reason Dodge wants this kind of new vehicle is it has become such a truck-heavy brand that people forget it sells cars. Dodge says it holds an 18% American market share in trucks but only a 5% share of the passenger car market.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle the Charger faces is, ironically, an overdose of testosterone. It may no longer be a muscle car, but this is every inch a guy's car, and Dodge sells mainly to men. According to recent Kelley Blue Book data, Dodge is the most masculine brand on the market; 85% of people who register new Dodges in America are men.
Can a car be a runaway success without the support of women? Dodge expects 65% of Charger buyers will be men, which may be an underestimate considering how few women register Dodges in general. Media literature for the Charger says the vehicle is aimed at "trendsetting, young, affluent males with incomes ranging from $65,000 to $90,000," and with a median age of 46.
But lest these males worry that the Charger isn't muscular enough, later this year Dodge will introduce a Charger powered by a 6.1-liter, 425-hp Hemi. Of course, this is great news to driving enthusiasts, such as the people who edit this section. We had a great time in the Charger, even if its interior is not the most luxurious or sophisticated out there. For driving impressions and more information, please follow the link below.