Hybrids Versus Muscle Cars: What Do Americans Want?

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I’m going to answer my own question and say both.

It’s true. According to Kelley Blue Book’s list of most searched cars, perennial favorites the Honda Civic and Accord topped the list. The Prius came in at #8, within spitting distance of the Camaro which came in at #12. In fact, if you look at the different lists from websites across the web, muscle cars are pretty consistently high on the search lists, as are hybrids and fuel efficient models like the Smart ForTwo.

So can America have its cake and eat it too?

If you look at the Detroit Auto Show this year, every automaker was pushing its fuel efficient models. Just take a look at this list of 24 Green Cars that were at the show this year. But muscle cars remain near the top of many people’s most wanted list. Take Yahoo!’s most searched for list, which had the Camaro at #1, Mustang at #3, with the Dodge Charger and Challenger coming in at #7 and #8 respectively. So obviously, people are still interested in muscle cars.

So why all the green cars? Well, we need them, as the ridiculous gas prices of 2008 showed us, the days of cheap gas are rapidly coming to a close. Even now, gas is hovering near $3 a gallon in some places, and it isn’t even close to summer. The government also wants all the major automakers to have a fleet-wide fuel efficiency average of 35 mpg by 2016. That isn’t going to be easy to hit with the cars Americans are used to buying like SUV’s, pickups, and of course muscle cars.

These are the cars that capture our imaginations as well as emptied our wallets at the gas pump. Automakers finally seem to be catching on though, that muscle cars don’t have to be gas guzzlers too. Take the Camaro and Mustang. Both have 300+ horsepower V6 engines, and yet manage 29 and 30 mpg on the highway respectively. That is reasonably good gas mileage for any non-hybrid, and especially for two cars that have iconic names in the American lexicon.

Even the V8 muscle cars are getting much better mileage than they used to. Compare the 2000 Mustang GT equipped with an automatic transmission to a 2011 Mustang, also with an automatic. The 2000 model gets 16 mpg in the city, and 22 on the highway, while the 2011 gets 17 city and 25 on the highway. That doesn’t seem like much of a bump, until you compare the engines. In 2000, the Mustang GT had 260 horsepower and 302 ft-lbs of torque out of the 4.6 liter V8.

The 2011 Mustang GT gets 412 horsepower, 390 ft-lbs of torque, out of an engine that displaces 5.0 liters. Seems a lot better now, doesn’t it?

America loves muscle cars, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. But what will change is our perception of what the car makers owe us. After decades of mediocrity from the Big Three, it is about time we got cars that deliver thrills and decent gas mileage. This is a good start, but it needs to get better too.

And hybrids need to get more exciting. I was pumped about the CR-Z from Honda, until they released those figures. 122 horsepower, 38 mpg on the highway, and it weighs almost 1,000 pounds more than the car it was based on, the CRX. So it weighs more, goes slower, and gets worse gas mileage. No good. Even if it is a relative discount in the hybrid market, the production model seems to have lost the edge that make the concept look so cool.

I wonder though, will we ever see a hybrid muscle car? I see the potential, if only because of all the instant torque a good electric motor can deliver, and the money I save on gas could be used to make it even more badass.

Just sayin’.

Sources: Kelley Blue Book | Yahoo | Images: Ford | Toyota

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.