Why Fiat S.p.A.'s Insane 2015 Dodge Challenger Hellcat Matters

Fiat Chrysler said this week that the 2015 Dodge Challenger would be available with a new supercharged V8 called the "Hellcat." The Challenger SRT Hellcat includes modifications to enhance cooling, durability, and aerodynamics. Source: Fiat Chrysler

"Okay, first we'll take a Hemi V8 that makes crazy amounts of power. Then we'll give it a huge supercharger so that it's even crazier. Then we'll put it in a very red Challenger. We'll give it extra-big radiators so it doesn't overheat when we do 200 miles per hour. Then we'll sell it."

It sounds like the kind of thing my car-crazy friends and I would have dreamed up when we were 14. (In fact, it sounds like the kind of thing we did dream up back then.)

Apparently, the folks running Fiat Chrysler's  (NASDAQOTH: FIATY  ) Dodge brand have been hanging with the same kind of crew, because that's exactly what they did with the wildest version yet of their Dodge Challenger muscle car.

One angry kitty: Meet the "Hellcat"
What is this "Hellcat?" It's a new V8 engine, and it will power a 600-plus horsepower version of the shamelessly retro Dodge Challenger. (It's also expected to land in a Charger sometime next year.) 

Dodge officials said this past Tuesday that the refreshed-for-2015 Dodge Challenger SRT will be available with the Hellcat, a 6.2 liter supercharged version of the company's Hemi V8. 

The Hellcat takes its name from a World War II-era U.S. Navy fighter aircraft. Exact power figures for the new engine haven't yet been established, but FCA promises more than 600 horsepower and 575 lb-ft of torque.

The new Hellcat V8 under the hood of a 2015 Dodge Challenger. Source: Fiat Chrysler

It's the most powerful V8 engine ever offered by Chrysler, they said. That's a big statement in light of Chrysler's fabled muscle-car heritage. But Chrysler's muscle-car heyday was decades ago, brought to a screeching halt in the early 1970s by rising gas prices and tightening emissions rules.

Those emissions rules are far tighter nowadays, and gas prices are a lot higher. So what's the deal with this new over-the-top Challenger?

It's a crazy product that exists for hard-headed business reasons
It may seem like a ridiculous product to some, but there are several good business reasons behind FCA's decision to offer a car like this. First and foremost, the Dodge brand is being repositioned. Fiat and Chrysler have finally competed their merger, and the combined company released its five-year business plan earlier this month. 

Under that plan, the Chrysler brand will become FCA's mainstream U.S. brand, offering family sedans and kid-haulers. Dodge, meanwhile, will lose its minivans, and refocus on high performance in an effort to draw more youthful buyers.

A high-performance brand needs at least one or two seriously fast cars. Dodge has the Viper, a sports car that will run with the best from Porsche and Ferrari -- but that's a six-figure specialty product made in tiny numbers. 

The Hellcat-powered Challenger won't be cheap, and it will probably also sell in very limited numbers.  But it will be considerably cheaper than the Viper -- and its existence should help sell more mundane Challengers. (The 2014 Challenger starts at $26,495 for a V6-powered model.)   

But there's more to the Hellcat's story than that.

You may not have noticed, but there's a horsepower war going on
Despite the fact that premium unleaded is running close to $4.00 a gallon in many parts of the country, there's a horsepower war going on between the automakers. It's not just Detroit, either.

The German luxury-car makers each have offerings with more than 500 horsepower, as does Cadillac with its ferocious CTS-V -- and Nissan's (NASDAQOTH: NSANY  ) Infiniti brand may soon join them. Even Hyundai (NASDAQOTH: HYMTF  ) offers its Genesis sedan with a 429-horsepower V8. After all, today's high-performance cars make good business sense, at least when they're expensive and built in relatively low numbers.

But Detroit is the source of the Challenger's traditional rivals, Ford's (NYSE: F  ) Mustang and General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) Chevrolet Camaro. And both of those models are already available with supercharged V8s that rival the Challenger's new Hellcat.

Ford's 2014 Shelby GT500 Mustang has a 662 horsepower supercharged 5.8 liter V8, while Chevy's Camaro ZL1 has a supercharged 6.2 liter V8 making 580 horsepower. Those numbers may not mean much to some readers, so let's be clear about this: These are profoundly fast cars. 

That Mustang will break 200 mph. It'll hit 140 mph in third gear. The Camaro tops out at a mere 180 miles per hour, but it'll go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds. And both are well-equipped for a day at the track.

Gas mileage is pretty awful, of course. But they both meet EPA emissions regulations and come with standard new-car warranties.  Modern technology makes that possible -- but you'll pay for it, and not just at the gas pump.

These aren't cheap cars
While a base 2014 Mustang starts at $22,510, and the Camaro begins at $23,555, the GT500 will run you $55,110, and the ZL1 $56,350. Those are substantial premiums that include substantial profits for Ford and GM -- and both have available options that can push the price tags well over $60,000, and the profits even higher. (Of course, we should note that the GT500 is about to be discontinued. Ford has an all-new Mustang coming for 2015, and the GT500's successor has yet to be revealed.) 

FCA hasn't announced pricing for the Challenger SRT Hellcat yet. But it's a safe bet that it will fall in the same range as its Detroit rivals.

The upshot: A very fast Dodge
Fifty-five thousand dollars, or thereabouts, is a lot of money for a Dodge Challenger, which is, after all, a design that dates all the way back to 2008 -- even with a supercharged Hemi. But the market has shown that there are buyers for these kinds of cars at that kind of price, and FCA is sure to win more than a few. Dodge brand chief Tim Kuniskis said this week that the company wouldn't limit production of the Hellcat, at least at first -- they'll build as many as their dealers order.

Still, with a new Mustang coming this fall, and an all-new Camaro expected next year, the Challenger might need more than a supercharged Hemi to keep its sales numbers up until its replacement arrives late in 2018. 

What do you think? Is the Hellcat just what the doctor ordered for Dodge? Or is it a dose of the wrong medicine for this proud old American brand? Scroll down to leave a comment with your thoughts.

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (17)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2014, at 5:55 PM, imDanielle2 wrote:

    I cannot wait to take one for a ride.. There will be one wandering into our shop eventually.. WOW

  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2014, at 10:28 PM, jasmith909 wrote:

    Glad they made it, but the problem with really high horsepower muscle cars is they can't put the power down. They cram those Mustangs & Camaros with 600+ bhp and they still can't accelerate under 3.0 secs, like an AWD Porsche or Audi R8 can. But, with that being said, that Hellcat engine sounds insane -- like you're detonating a bomb every time you hit the gas. And that alone would be worth it.

  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2014, at 11:02 PM, Bryanbeachboy197 wrote:

    Um, AFAIK that 200mph claim for the GT500 has never been verified. Car & Driver maxed it at 190mph and had no evidence that the car could go any faster. Its just not aerodynamic enough with that big grill to hit 200 in anything other than perfect conditions.

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 8:15 AM, writeon wrote:

    Mopar was the dominant force on the street with stock horsepower in the 60's and 70's. It's about time they made that step in the right direction again. Depending on the price, there could be a Hellcat in my driveway. And definitely the only pony car for a large guy because the Mustang and Camaro are severely lacking in head room.

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 10:26 AM, MightyMight wrote:

    There is no one that "needs" this car but a few crazed enthusiasts that will "want" this car so bad - including me.

    The heyday for American Muscle cars was the Spring of 1970 on the streets of Southeastern Michigan; Woodward, Telegraph and Gratiot Avenue. That was a heady time of incredible machines. This time around with GT500's, ZL1's and now soon to be Hellcats prowling the streets across America, it's even better.

    I'll take my Hellcat in Black.

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 1:49 PM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    I am very seriously thinking about replacing my CTS-V with one of these. Very seriously. Pitch Black or B5 Blue, 6 speed, sunroof.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 9:30 PM, Viper3 wrote:

    Look these cars are hot bad to the bone I was born in the 70's . Grew up on trans am and chargers but this new dodge should of been a cuda with that much horsepower they could of called it aar cuda. And the prices of these cars are crazy Americans are fighting to pay their bills and house payments. Only ones that will be able to buy this car are older guys wanting to relive there younger years with that said I can't wait to the hellcat comes out I am calling every rental car place to see if they have one to rent.

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2014, at 10:34 PM, Windy991 wrote:

    Gentlemen,

    When an auto manufacturer decides to 'build' a retro vehicle, AND they update the vehicle with all of the latest safety, handling, braking, steering features, and keep most of the good looks - they usually have a winner. You editors know but will not say the obvious, "None of us old or young auto enthousiates would by one of the original Challengers", but the new one is great.

  • Report this Comment On July 26, 2014, at 6:37 PM, Bluecoat022 wrote:

    Here I am almost 65 and I can remember the muscle cars from the 60's and 70's which I was not able to afford but now I can and I really want a Hellcat. Updated pricing is now around $65,000 with only about 1,200 made for 2015, good chance for an investment. Also the Hellcat will have a Launch button which allows you to put your foot on the brake and then floor the accelerator. When you hit the button to go the computer takes over and limits wheel spin so you get the fastest hole shot possible. There are 2,400 Dodge dealers nation wide so only half of them will receive a Hellcat so you might not get the color you want.

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