Dodge Keeps Charger Fresh By Giving Enthusiasts What They Want
Dodge Keeps Charger Fresh By Giving Enthusiasts What They Want
Posted on October 29, 2019
Dodge has one of the industry's most engaged customer bases. That passion is a source of inspiration when it comes to the Charger sedan, an aging nameplate that Dodge has tried to keep fresh through the years with engine options, styling tweaks and special editions on a platform with roots dating to 2004.
The Charger's vocal fans have kept Dodge busy as it tries to cater to their wish lists, said Tim Kuniskis, FCA's head of passenger cars in North America.
These consumers have driven the progression of Dodge's muscle cars. Kuniskis said Dodge gave them the Hellcat versions of the Charger and Challenger because they wanted more horsepower.
In its latest nod to enthusiasts, Dodge is releasing the Charger Widebody in early 2020. It's not a redesign, but the car has new front and rear fascias with integrated fender flares, adding 3.5 inches over the wider wheels and tires. It follows in the footsteps of the Challenger, which also has received the Widebody treatment.
Dodge set pricing for the Charger Scat Pack Widebody at $47,490. The SRT Hellcat Widebody is $71,140, more than double the base Charger price of $30,965. All prices include shipping.
"We just keep responding to what they're looking for in the marketplace, which is not a bad business model, right?" Kuniskis told Automotive News after unveiling the Charger Widebody in June. "If a customer is asking for it and we build it, they're going to buy it. We give the customers credit for coming up with all of this stuff, and they have no shortage of ideas."
As Dodge continues to field ideas from consumers, the question is how much longer it can tout the Charger in its current form before the car grows stale and sales suffer. For now, it continues to tick with a personality that stands apart from most other sedans.
Its U.S. sales have been on an upswing for several months, with deliveries estimated as doubling in August from a year earlier after jumping at least 35 percent in May and June. Sales were estimated to have increased at least 35 percent in July, too. The vehicle is getting a boost from the Power Dollars promotion that offers a cash rebate worth $10 for each unit of rated horsepower on Charger, Challenger and Durango models. That's $7,070 on the 707-hp Charger SRT Hellcat, for example.
Ken Thomas, operating partner of Northland Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram in suburban Detroit, sold out of his Charger and Challenger Hellcats soon after the Power Dollars incentives began in August.
Calling the Charger a "cult car," Thomas said the nameplate should perform well for a few more years as long as Dodge keeps freshening it with updated packages.
Thomas said "two to three years is probably about as much as I hope they're going to try and get out of it" before a more significant update. But he doesn't believe Dodge has to bring out a new platform to keep the public interested.
An overhaul of the exterior and interior designs, Thomas said, likely would be enough to keep consumers coming back. The last freshening and restyling came in the 2015 model year.
Thomas said there are benefits to having a proven platform. The current one, a redesigned version of the architecture used for the 2005 Chrysler 300 and 2006 Charger, has been around since 2011.
"The biggest thing for me [is] the fact that [because] it has been around so long, its quality is definitely better. So we have way less issues on that car than probably any other product line that we have," Thomas said. "That's one of those things where I'm kind of torn between, 'Give me a new product' or, 'Go ahead and just keep the old product and just keep improving it.' Because new product comes with new problems, where right now this is tried and true, and it's working for us."
The Charger is in a unique position. Although it's a full-size sedan, Kuniskis said it's more of a specialty offering, along with the two-door Challenger, Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. Kuniskis said Dodge could have made its muscle cars smaller in response to criticism that they were too heavy and didn't handle as well as competitors. But the brand went in a different direction, opting to up the performance ante with Hellcat iterations. Kuniskis said horsepower has been the "great leveler."
"You can make the car smaller, lighter, and you've seen some vehicles across the industry going that direction," Kuniskis said. "We could have done that, or we could do what the original muscle car formula was back in the '60s. Take the car, put more brake, more tire, more horsepower in it. And you know what, nobody's complaining about the size of the car anymore."
Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said the Charger's success "is a rare-but-undeniable example of personality trumping engineering."
Brauer said Dodge's ability to market the rear-wheel-drive, V-8 Charger and Challenger has kept the products viable "even as newer cars, and cars in general, are canceled for a lack of sales volume."
"It's a credit to the original Mercedes-Benz chassis that spawned these vehicles, and continues to provide a competitive ride-and-handling experience 25 years later," Brauer wrote in an email.
"Of course, Dodge and FCA have improved the chassis while enhancing other key components, including the transmission and interior design," he said. "But the bigger factor is Dodge's creative branding, presenting itself as an undiluted muscle car brand that leverages a combination of nostalgia and modern tech to draw performance fans into showrooms. That recipe shows no sign of weakening. If anything, it's working as well or better now than ever before."
Looking ahead, Northland's Thomas understands that the profit haulers for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are Ram and Jeep, which have new products on the market or in the pipeline. He just hopes some of that shiny, new metal trickles down to Dodge.
"Just long term, for viability of the brand, we still need new product for it," Thomas said. "I know there's still plans to update the Charger and the Challenger and come up with a new crossover, I believe, for Dodge as well. Product is going to be the key for it."