Never Stop Driving #33: 100 extra hp or a two-inch-bigger touchscreen?

Certainly, the Dodge Challenger made a deal with the devil. In 2022, the ancient and overweight but smartly styled sport coupe again outsold the Ford Mustang and the Chevy Camaro. The Challenger rides on a platform that debuted in 2004, ancient times in the car biz. For you sports fans in need of a metaphor, the Challenger is the pony-car Tom Brady.

The car’s fountain of youth is refreshingly simple: Horsepower plus creativity. The fast one is not simply the “LX” model, it’s the “Demon.” In certain ideal circumstances, it can lift its front wheels. Hell, yeah. We did a piece on the genesis of the platform and the car, which is enlightening mostly for how Chrysler executives managed to push through a rear-drive sedan in a front-drive world. There’s also this quote from Tim Kuniskis, the CEO of Dodge: “If I went to every single customer that bought a Dodge and I said, ‘I can give you a state-of-the-art, two-inch-bigger touchscreen or another hundred horsepower, which one do you want?’ Every single one of them would take the hundred horsepower.” If you want to see the guts behind the Challenger’s horsepower, check out this video of a Hemi build.

This is the last year for the Hemi-powered Challenger, but since they made so many for so long, that car will always be with us.

My foray into car sales came via the Automotive News 2022 sales figures, which came out this week. I love this yearly scorecard, as it invariably highlights important trends. Cars, for example, continue to die for SUVs and trucks. Ford sold 1.8 million light-duty vehicles and only 64,338 were cars. One single model, the Escalade, counted for a third of Cadillac sales. Cadillac, you’ll remember, produces some of the best performance sedans ever—here’s a video we made with one—so we hope that within GM the Escalade is viewed as a way to fund those stellar cars. The accountants, however, could also be saying, “Hey, why not double down on the ‘Slade?” We will see.

Genesis, the relatively new luxury brand from Hyundai, is on a tear and sold 56,410 vehicles, about 10 thousand more than Nissan’s well-established luxury brand, Infiniti. While Ford likes to tout that the F-150 holds the sales crown at 653,967, if you combine Chevy and GMC pickup sales, the GM trucks win with a 754,876 total. In 2022, the Chevy Silverado outsold the Ram, which was a reversal of the 2021 result. That one is a head scratcher to me as I bought a Ram 1500 after test-driving all the pickups, and I love the thing.

Many of my favorite sporty models were just a blip on the sales charts. Mazda sold only 6171 Miatas. The Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ twin coupes found fewer than 15,000 new homes. In our video review of the car, we found the new version a huge improvement and a wonderful machine to drive. Will that be enough for Toyota and Subaru to justify those fun-to-drive machines?

Speaking of Toyota, it was the top-selling brand, with almost two million cars sold in the U.S. CEO Akio Toyoda is one of the few auto executives who has publicly expressed skepticism that the industry should dive head-first into EVs. That might be because Toyota, like Dodge, is a master of keeping old platforms alive. The very, umm, mature 4Runner and Tacoma combined for about 350,000 sales in 2022. Electric cars are coming, but the EV market remains dominated by Tesla, which sold 491,000 cars last year. Ford more than doubled its EV sales and moved 61,575 EVs in 2022 to take the second spot. Automotive News reported last month that toolmakers, which make the parts that make the cars, are seeing a steep rise in orders. This, the article said, suggests an upcoming wave of new vehicles, most of which will be powered by internal-combustion engines.

Volkswagen sells about the same number of cars around the world as Toyota but remains a minor player in the states. One might suggest that the diesel scandal is to blame, but VW USA was small before then, too. That episode, by the way, continues to fascinate me. Over the holidays, I listened to an excellent book on the topic: Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal, by Jack Ewing. The book chronicles not just the diesel episode, but also the family relationships between the Porsches and the Piëchs who control much of the company and the corporate culture that led to the cheating. Ewing can write.

In Hagerty land, check out our new video series, Will It Run, and see if you can figure out how to resurrect a long-forgotten wagon. Perhaps you heard that Cadillac and the Andrettis announced that they’d like to enter Formula 1? Few think the FIA will invite them to join, but my colleague Steven Cole Smith, who’s covered racing for decades, thinks differently.

If you’re a fan of car design, check out this piece on cars drawn by the same Italian design house favored by Ferrari.

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    Larry – keep up the great work! I look forward to your “Never Stop Driving” emails every Friday morning. Very much enjoy your articles and writing style.

    Larry, I love your weekly columns! Great to have a concise overview of the automotive industry from someone so knowledgeable. Always a nugget or two where I have to click on the link to learn more. Thanks to Hagerty for supporting the car crazy culture. It’s moved me to get Hagerty insurance on my next collector car to support the cause!

    Well Larry, being an old gray hair, most of my peers got their kicks through a windscreen, and not phone or computer screen. So, I guess it depends on which screen you attach your most accustomed to getting your thrill’s through.

    As the more mature set ages out, the younger set will take over how experiences are delivered.

    For me personally, I’d take horsepower over a larger screen. Actually, I’d take two inch wider wheels and tires over either. I think most performance cars have more than enough power, and the suspension, handling and braking are areas where many so called enthusiast cars need attention.

    I’ve been blessed with many low traffic, well maintained, winding country roads, so great handling always took priority over straight line performance.

    We used to joke as youngsters, that drag racing when compared to road racing could be compared to sex. One is over really quickly, and the other not so much.

    With regards to the diesel scandal no one seems to consider that the emission standards arbitrarily set by the bureaucrats took no account of what was possible with the technology available at the time. If it had been feasible to achieve these levels whilst remaining economically viable the major manufacturers would have willing done so. They no doubt tried but found the levels unachievable and thus they, and in my opinion they all did some degree of cheating, failed because merely being told that this is what you must achieve in this timescale was never going to work.

    I think you’ll find that the Challenger “outsold” the Mustang only because of the chip shortage’s affect on Mustang production. As for the Camaro, well, nobody wants one.

    Yeah for sure supply chains effected sales, probably the same for the Ram. But even still the Challenger’s staying power is impressive!

    Want to account for the dismal sporty-car sales numbers? They’re moving higher up on the “luxury” ladder, even if they’re not from premium brands. With the shi* soup that is inflation, layoffs, high interest rates, and a cooling housing market, disposable income is quickly drying up (if not already gone) for a large chunk of the population that would love to have a new sports car, but can’t afford one. Might be why we’re seeing ridiculousness like 15-year-old, $17,000 Honda Civic Si’s…90% of the fun, 60% of the cost.

    If I was Stellantis I’d wait until ‘the last minute’ and milk that rwd chassis for another year–at least. From a former 300s owner. Great dynamics–improve the interior. It’s the last big US sedan left and is still selling along with the Challenger which seems like it will never die as long as they want to stamp them out. Tesla is coming out with 20% discounts today to move metal and you pay over list to get a big Mopar now. Think about it Stellantis…resist the Govt money and pressure. The EV dam is about to break.

    Even BMW clocked 60% of its US sales as SUVs–uh, SAVs…At least some of ’em don’t make the expression “performance SUV” an oxymoron. Think I’ll stick with my 2002s and E30…

    The EV skateboards are going to hit a point of uniformity to reduce costs that we will likely see much longer runs on platforms that will put the Fox/Panther platform to shame for the number and variations being put on a handful of platforms. I expect much cross-badge and company sharing (or negligible difference between offerings).

    Dodge (Toyota, Nissan…) thumbed their nose at the perception (that auto mags loved to write about in every car review for a vehicle on a 3+ year old platform) that we NEEDed a change every few years –which is most laughable with “evolved designs” like Subarus and F150s that exteriors barely change for generations.

    Most platform changes gave the consumer no appreciable gains, but did obsolete lots of parts. If it isn’t a measurable safety/environment improvement worth the cost of the change to new platform –writers should have been looking down upon this process for several decades as it is wasteful in the big picture.

    Larry, just wanted to let you know I do enjoy most of your articles. As far as tidbits about Hyundia’s, Toyoda, and Hondas and others that have worked to decimate the American car culture I could care less about. I really don’t see in the future people restoring these brands. I say that only because I believe most of their owners can’t use a screwdriver.

    The Hot Rodders of the 40s mostly used Fords as they were cheap and plentiful and what high schooler and start of career people could afford. If Fiat Topolinas had been more common that could have been the basis of hot rodding…

    For the past 30 years the entry point to car culture has been Honda Civics, Jettas, trucks and such. I can concede that Toyota has been bland most of the past 20 years, but the last 2 years they have been doing some interesting things performance wise that aren’t $70 000+ –and you can’t deny that Toyota trucks earned their loyal following among actual owners over the decades.

    The “punk tuner kid” of 1998 is the hot rodder of 1947 and very well may be the specialist restorer of (insert “more esteemed brand” today.

    High end restorations of early Skylines, Fairlady and such are already happening. Don’t even get the Hagerty market watching people talking about it…

    Car culture needs to be about people that love cars. The threats to the hobby are too big to hold onto old thinking about anti-brand or anti-style. Doesn’t mean I want to buy or make a Donk Impala or Kia, but kudos to anyone with that passion. A well built Donk can earn my respect even if I wouldn’t ever do that myself.

    Is your “no reserve” podcast coming back? I just found it this week and I’m shocked I wasn’t aware of it sooner since I visit Hagerty Media daily. It’s by far the best auction analysis podcast out there.

    What ever happened to your No Reserve podcast? I just found it randomly and it is by far the best auto auction analysis podcast I’ve ever listened to. I read Hagerty Media regularly, so I’m surprised it wasn’t advertised more when it was originally airing.

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