Muscle Cars Out in Force at New York Auto Show

As gas prices stabilize, manufacturers are making all of their cars more efficient.

Apr 17, 2014 at 4:45PM

Ap Muscle Car

People gather around the 2015 Dodge Challenger after it is introduced at the New York International Auto Show in New York, Thursday, April 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Who says America has lost its muscle?

Growling, unapologetic performance is the theme of this year's New York International Auto Show, which opens to the public Friday. Sure, there's something called the EV Pavilion, where visitors can ride around in a plug-in hybrid. But automakers didn't introduce any hybrids or electrics at the show.

The focus is on power.

Dodge unveiled the 2015 Challenger, which will offer a 6.4-liter, 485-horsepower V8. Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg debuted its $1.6 million Agera R supercar, which gets 1,140 horsepower (that's not a typo) and has a top speed of 273 miles per hour. There was a new Corvette convertible and an Alfa Romeo sports car. Ford kicked off the show by putting a bright yellow 2015 Mustang on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

Dodge chief Tim Kuniskis said internal surveys of car buyers consistently show that around a quarter of America's 16 million car buyers are most interested in performance.

"Muscle cars are really not niche cars," he said. "There are 4.5 million people looking for cars like this -- very emotional cars that they can connect with."

Dodge buyers are overwhelmingly male and young, Kuniskis said. The average buyer of the brawny, four-door Dodge Charger is 46, which is 17 years younger than the average for the full-size car segment. The Challenger, too, attracts younger buyers, despite its retro styling. Both cars go on sale later this year.

There are other factors behind this enduring love of muscle. Gas prices have stabilized, so many customers aren't as concerned about fuel economy. U.S. gas prices averaged $3.51 per gallon last year and are expected to average $3.45 this year, according to government statistics.

At the same time, manufacturers are making all of their cars more efficient. The Charger offers two engine choices, one of which gets 31 miles per gallon, while the sporty Alfa Romeo 4C gets 28 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. The new Mustang, which goes on sale at the end of this year, will offer Ford's EcoBoost engine, which gives a smaller four-cylinder the power of a larger engine.

Sales of hybrids and electrics totaled 594,729 last year, or 3.8% of the market, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. That was up slightly from the prior year. But sales have been sluggish so far in 2014.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with car buying site Kelley Blue Book, says buyers have simply come to expect that fuel economy is always improving no matter what they drive.

"Green technology by itself is no longer an interesting story, because we've been hearing about it for so long," he said. "People don't want a car because it's green. They want a car because it's a great vehicle that also happens to have green characteristics."

One example: the Porsche 918 Spyder, a plug-in hybrid supercar that's on display in New York. It can go 18 miles on pure electricity and gets a government fuel economy rating of 67 miles per gallon equivalent in electric mode.

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