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During the past decade, Dodge rolled out one model faster than the last using variations of its 6.2-liter V-8. Now, TheDetroitBureau.com has learned, the muscle car brand is working up what will be its fastest model ever — but instead of using the familiar Dodge Hellcat engine, it will be battery powered.
Until recently, Dodge and the other brands that made up the old Fiat Chrysler Automobiles lagged behind key rivals when it came to electrification. If anything, former CEO Sergio Marchionne was openly hostile to electrification. But that is changing rapidly.
Now part of Stellantis, following FCA’s merger with France’s PSA Group, the automaker is rapidly shifting focus, according to more than a half-dozen insiders who spoke to TheDetroitBureau.com. At least six all-electric vehicles are currently in the styling studio in Auburn Hills, Michigan, along with at least one — and likely several — plug-in hybrids. And still more are in various stages of development.
Changing with the times
The move reflects a dramatic shift in focus happening throughout the auto industry. Ford, for one, has nearly tripled its commitment to battery technology in the last year. Volkswagen has committed $86 billion to electrify its various brands. And General Motors hopes to abandon gas and diesel technology entirely by 2035.
Along with other traditional automakers, they’re all taking aim at Tesla, the California-based upstart that, late Thursday, unveiled the eagerly awaited Model S Plaid, the latest version of its original sedan.
Billed by CEO Elon Musk as “the quickest production vehicle ever made,” it will hit 60 mph in less than 2 seconds. That’s significantly faster than the Dodge Challenger Demon, a limited-edition, 840-horsepower monster that the FCA brand brought to market in 2017. At the time, it could deliver astounding 0-60 times of around 2.3 seconds.
Dodge officials seem determined to take back bragging rights. Though the various sources TheDetroitBureau.com spoke to would not confirm specific numbers, one ranking official said that the BEV under development “will be the fastest (Dodge) ever,” which would put its launch times down in the 2-second — or less — range.
“The days of the (conventional, gas-powered) Hellcat are numbered,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal auto analyst, Guidehouse Insights. “It’s not a product that’s sustainable.”
Electrification plans and growth
The new Dodge is just one of the numerous electrified models that the former FCA has under development, the automaker working up at least six pure BEVs, as well as plug-in hybrids.
The only one of these products so far officially confirmed is a PHEV version of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee, although officials basically cemented the notion of a PHEV Grand Wagoneer during its debut. The precise timing hasn’t been revealed but it is expected to follow within about a year of the Grand Cherokee’s makeover. The stretched, three-row Grand Cherokee L will begin rolling into showrooms this month, said Jim Morrison, the Jeep brand boss, during a presentation this week. The conventional, two-row Grand Cherokee will follow later this year.
Jeep recently launched its first plug-in, the Wrangler 4xe, and officials admitted surprise at just how strong demand has been. The Wrangler, overall, had its best sales ever in May, with over 25,000 delivered, and the 4xe accounted for 20.1% of that total. The 4xe is now the best-selling plug-in in the U.S., outselling the Prius Prime.
While some of that reflected pent-up demand, Jeep officials said they expect the 4xe to continue to draw strong demand reflecting the advantages it offers. Not only is it capable of 21 miles in all-electric mode but it also provides substantially improved off-road performance thanks to the instant, low-speed torque of its electric motors. During a recent Jeep-sponsored trek down the Rubicon Trail, those riding in Wrangler 4xe models operated solely in electric mode.
“We’re going to be the greenest SUV brand on the planet,” Morrison boasted on Thursday. Whether the brand can live up to that claim is uncertain — Land Rover, for one, plans a major shift to plug-ins and BEVs over the coming decade — but it suggests that the Wrangle and Grand Cherokee 4xe models will be just the beginning. One of the all-electric vehicles under development by Stellantis is believed to be meant for Jeep.
While FCA officials would not discuss plans for the Ram brand, another one of the six BEVs in development appears to be a version a the full-size Ram 1500 pickup.
“They have to have one,” said Abuelsamid, pointing to the instant demand for both the Ford F-150 Lightning announced last month as well as the GMC Hummer pickup.
Shift is transformational
All this amounts to a major turnaround for the FCA side of that newly formed company. When the all-electric Fiat 500e, the company’s first all-electric model, was introduced in 2017, former CEO Marchionne told potential customers, “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000.” That reflected the difference between production costs and the 500e’s $32,650 base price.
Since then, a number of things have happened to shift thinking at FCA and, now, Stellantis. For one thing, battery prices have plunged sharply — from as much as $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, to under $150 today. And the industry target is less than $100 by mid-decade. Battery vehicles have gotten significantly better range. And, as models like the Model S Plaid and the Wrangler 4xe demonstrate, manufacturers are delivering unexpected benefits, such as high-performance and off-road credibility.
There’s also the pressure from rising competition in the EV space, as well as increasing pressure from regulators. Several countries, including the UK and Norway, and several states, such as California and Washington, are laying out formal timetables for phasing out internal combustion technology.
The FCA electrification program got a boost two years ago when Marchionne’s successor, Mike Manley, brought in Micky Bly as its new powertrain chief. Bly previously served as the head of the Chevrolet Volt program. That was General Motors’ first PHEV launched in 2010.
The merger with Stellantis is giving the old FCA another boost. It increases available R&D dollars while also giving access to technology already in use by what was the PSA Group — which was the second-largest seller of BEVs in Europe last year.
Before the merger, FCA had only one electrified vehicle in the U.S., the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. In Europe, it had the latest version of the Fiat 500e BEV.
By mid-decade, expect to see PHEVs and BEVs in the line-up for virtually every brand at the company, now the world’s largest automaker by volume. That notably includes the Italian marques Alfa Romeo and Maserati. Like Dodge, they will take advantage of the massive torque electric motors can deliver to burnish their performance reputations.