I recently expressed my disappointment that the 2015 Mustang is really just more of the same, a fun but inefficient performance car longing for the days when gas cost a dime a gallon. The Mustang ignores a truth all automakers have begrudgingly accepted; electrification of the automobile is the future. Even Ferrari has figured that out.
If the Mustang and other muscle cars like the Camaro and Challenger are to survive as modern day performance machines, they’ll have to eventually embrace hybrid technology, or become such low-volume, high-cost vehicles that their emissions contribution no longer matters. I don’t like to think about that though, as it means the end of the affordable muscle car.
Instead I will wonder aloud…which Detroit automaker will be the first to deliver a hybrid or (gasp) electric muscle car? And no, the Mustang EcoBoost doesn’t count; I’m not convinced an engine running on premium fuel will actually deliver more than the 30 MPG of the V6, especially given Ford’s recent MPG snafus. I’m also going to leave Tesla out of the equation here, and instead focus on the Detroit-based Big Three.
I’d make the case that the Chevy Camaro has the best chance of embracing electrification before either the Mustang or Challenger, and for one simple reason; the Chevy Volt. GM has made the Volt the centerpiece in their green car lineup, and the plug-in hybrid remains a top seller on the monthly green car sales charts. The Camaro would also be an exceptional platform to showcase a next-gen Voltec drivetrain, so long as it delivers adequate performances. Eventually, a hybrid drivetrain could replace the 305 horsepower V6 engine, though GM’s foray into the eAssist mild hybrid drivetrain seems to have ended with a whimper, not a bang.
A Chevy Camaro with a Volt drivetrain? It’s not as crazy as it sounds, as the Cadillac ELR has the same drivetrain, but 30% more power, up over 200 ponies. While there isn’t a performance version of the ELR planned yet, if GM can make the output more along the line of 300 horsepower, while exceeding the fuel economy of the base V6 engine, who would complain? GM has arguably been the boldest of the three Detroit automakers with its green car plans, and the Volt remains a top contender.
That’s essentially what Ford is trying to do with the 2.3 liter EcoBoost engine, and while there’s been talk of looking into diesel, hybrid, or even electric drivetrains for the Mustang, I won’t hold my breath. Ford has played its cards very conservatively with the 2015 Mustang, and I think a hybrid F-150 is more likely to come before a hybrid Mustang. Then again, Ford did downsize the Mustang in a big way between the 1973 anbd 1974 model years, and 1974 remains as the one and only year to not even offer a V8 engine. Yet the 1974 Mustang II was one of the best-selling model years ever. Ford surely remembers that as well, and it could make such a bold transition again.
As for Chrysler? Well there’s no saying the Challenger is even going to be around long enough to embrace electrification, though Fiat-Chrysler has made it clear its not a fan of either hybrid or electric vehicles. A plug-in hybrid minivan is said to be in the works, but Sergio Marchionne is actually asking people not to buy the Fiat 500e EV. Ouch.
I think its fair to say that the Challenger, or whatever replaces it, will probably be the last holdout of an era long past.
Some people would rather seem nameplates like Mustang and Camaro die before they embrace green technology, but I’d much rather see these legendary cars adapt to a different time then to just disappear. If they are to survive though, it won’t be because of the big V8 engines that are becoming increasingly scarce as automakers find other ways to make performance cars perform. Other automakers like Toyota and BMW are toying with the idea of hybrid sports cars, while Porsche has gone all-in with hybrid tech.
Is America really ready to cede the performance crown like that? I say no, and I also say there’s nothing wrong with the idea of a hybrid muscle car. Eventually, somebody is going to do it sooner than later, though I expect the next generation of muscle cars to be the last of its kind. In other words, don’t expect any hybrid Mustang or Camaro announcement before 2020, and perhaps even beyond.
You can have your cake and eat it too, and as long as there is a V8 engine option, the purists can be kept at bay. For those of us willing to embrace something different though, the payoff could be huge. A 200 horsepower EcoBoost engine paired with a 150 horsepower electric motor that can deliver 40+ MPG and have a limited electric-only range? I’d be on board for that, and Ford might even win me back from Tesla.