Is Detroit's Horsepower War Doomed?

The 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 will generate 650 horsepower from its supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine, General Motors recently confirmed. Source: General Motors Co.

How much horsepower is too much?

High-performance car fans might be quick to answer that there's no such thing as "too much" power. And lately, automakers are rushing to cater to those fans: Just in the last month, GM has announced that the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 will have a whopping 650 horsepower -- a number that could be eclipsed when Fiat Chrysler  (NASDAQOTH: FIATY  ) reveals the final horsepower numbers for the ferocious new "Hellcat" Hemi V8 that will power the top-of-the-line 2015 Dodge Challenger.

So far, Chrysler has only said that the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat will have "over 600" horsepower -- but some reports suggest that the final number could be considerably higher. Source: Fiat Chrysler

Those are numbers that put the top-tier exotic cars of just a few years ago to shame. And there's more on the way: Higher-powered versions of the new Ford  (NYSE: F  ) Mustang could eventually top the Hellcat, while the German luxury-car makers are rushing to add turbos to their already-high-powered premium sedans. Even Nissan's  (NASDAQOTH: NSANY  ) Infiniti could soon be getting in on the game.

Motley Fool senior auto specialist John Rosevear loves fast cars as much as anybody, and he's owned a bunch -- but as an investor, he's starting to wonder if things are on the verge of getting out of hand. Products like the Corvette Z06 and the Challenger SRT Hellcat are very profitable for their makers, and great marketing tools for their brands. But in an era when fuel-economy regulations are rapidly tightening and safety concerns are higher than ever, is a full-blown horsepower war inviting trouble -- or is it just good old-fashioned tire-smoking fun?

A transcript of the video is below.

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John Rosevear: Hey Fools, it's John Rosevear, senior auto specialist for General Motors dropped some product news a couple of weeks ago that got a lot of attention among high performance enthusiasts, and I think it's worth a look from us as well.

Back in January, GM revealed the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, a super high performance version of the new Corvette that GM launched a year ago. I was there with my Foolish colleague Rex Moore and we brought you some coverage of that at the time.

Now, the Corvette Stingray that they introduced last year has been a big sales success, at least by Corvette standards, and now GM is going to build on that with the Z06. We knew it was going to be a monster but we didn't know how much of a monster, GM didn't release horsepower ratings for it when they showed it in January.

Well, now they have, and now we know that the supercharged 6.2 liter engine in the new Z06 will make 650 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 650 foot pounds of torque at 3,600 rpm.

Folks, that's a whole lot of power.

GM said it's the most powerful engine ever from Chevrolet. GM's press release points out that it blows away the Porsche 911 Turbo S by 90 horsepower and 134 pound feet of torque, and it's almost certain to blow away the Porsche in price too, but in the other direction, the 911 Turbo S starts at $182,700. GM hasn't announced pricing for the new Z06 but it's likely to be half of the Porsche's price tag, probably less, the best guesses are that it will come in around $80,000 give or take.

It's a cool product, but step back a minute.

There's one heck of a horsepower war going on in the global auto business right now that has been facilitated by the technology that has come into play over the last several years. Cleaner-burning engines can generate more power while still complying with tough emissions regulations, and more sophisticated computer controlled handling aids, like anti skid systems and so forth, have made these new super-powered cars safe for ordinary people to drive, or at least a lot safer.

But this is just the latest in a lot of high horsepower announcements, we've been talking about the new Hellcat engine that Fiat Chrysler is introducing to the Dodge brand, it's a supercharged 6.2-liter version of the Hemi V8, that'll have over 600 horsepower, again they haven't said how much, and Ford just ended production of the top of the line Shelby GT500 version of the outgoing Mustang, which had 662 horsepower, and it's a safe bet that they'll do something even wilder for the all-new Mustang in a year or two.

Meanwhile, cars like the BMW M5 which has 560 horsepower have upped the game in luxury, and a version of this new Corvette engine might end up in the next Cadillac CTS-V, the old one had a mere 556 horsepower and GM has hinted that the new one will have more.

Now, I personally like high horsepower cars, I own a CTS-V, and I know that these are very profitable products as well as great marketing tools for these brands, but as an investor I have to wonder where this ends. How much horsepower is too much? If you're watching this on, scroll down to leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. Thanks for watching.

Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (10)

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 June 22, 2014, at 7:03 PM, guahanlife wrote:

    Even if it is doomed, ever heard of Hennessey, Lingenfelter, Callaway? You will find that there are several aftermarket performance shops that will give the customer what they are looking for in horsepower.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2014, at 7:43 PM, yuckfu wrote:

    in sports cars like these you cant have too much horsepower,you want enough to match the other guy.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2014, at 11:15 PM, MichaelMenning wrote:

    It's clear that the national fuel economy regulations are not stringent enough when the major auto companies have the time to enhance their corporate images by playing around with high power designs that cater to select customers. The few wealthy individuals that can afford these gas guzzlers are penalizing the rest of the citizens that live in the same atmosphere. The feeble attemps to improve milage by making vehicles lighter could be greatly advanced by making them smaller and less powerful across the board.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 1:23 AM, Petronilus wrote:

    Like it or not, the old gas guzzling muscle car will be on a decline as:

    1. The price of gas keep rising

    2. Future government regulations will push people away from buying environmentally damaging cars

    3. The coolness of being noisy and causing pollution will drop

    4. EV cars will increasingly kick the ass of traditional gas powered cars due to superior torque and things to come, e.g. precision torque vectoring, while still being highly efficient

    Why the heck would anyone want a BMW M5 when they can get a cool looking BMW i8 or better performing Tesla Model S P85 for similar price?

    And what about BMW i9 or whatever it will be...

    Unfortunately GM is still on the "sniffing gas roadmap".

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 11:10 AM, TXObjectivist75 wrote:

    Good to know there are still a lot of nannies out there that can make all my car purchasing decisions for me.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 12:14 PM, Motley1369 wrote:

    One thing that a lot of people have misconceptions about are the gas mileage of cars like the new corvettes. If you actually take a look at what kind of gas mileage they get if driven just like any other car, you will find that they will often surpass most others in MPG. I currently own a 2014 Corvette Stingray, and while driving on the highway, I get quite good gas mileage -- much better than my other car. The 2015 model is said to even increase this further.

    It is the auto manufacturers making the engine more efficient that is producing these high horsepower engines. Efficiency is good. Lowering body weight is also good for both increasing MPG and making better sports cars.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 12:51 PM, mibo wrote:

    Let the OEMs build their crazy cars! As stated, these are great marketing tools, and almost always carry improvements in performance, comfort, manufacturing technology, etc, Those features that actually work will trickle down into the commodity cars the "rest of us" buy. These halo cars are where engineers can afford to try new, radical ideas without destroying their product's profitability.

    So, bring on the powermongers! Build them with more power, less mass, and better safety features. in a couple years, I'll buy versions of several of those same features in the hatchback I will use to drive myself to work and my kids to soccer practice.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 1:31 PM, AleBrewer wrote:

    The real question should be “how much horse power is enough”? My 300HP 24MPG 93 Corvette that comes in at $23.33 per HP sounds a lot more affordable than the new ZO6 at $123 per HP. It’s just as much fun and that $70,000 I’m not spending on a new one will buy a lot of gas.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2014, at 11:03 PM, VistaBlueGT wrote:

    "...more sophisticated computer controlled handling aids, like anti skid systems and so forth, have made these new super-powered cars safe for ordinary people to drive, or at least a lot safer."

    The above statement leaves a lot to interpretation. This is just my opinion, but "ordinary people" have no business buying these high horsepower cars in the first place. Isn't that the point? That ordinary people should stick to their Camry's and minivans and leave the high horsepower vehicles to those who know how to use that power. I'm a true gear-head and have owned my 600bhp Kenne Bell Supercharged 2006 Mustang GT for 8 years now without breaking the bank. In the past, I've tracked my car and was even fortunate enough to drive it on the German Autobahn. 'Ordinary People' are not interested in these activities. But there are those of us who are always interested in more horsepower, better handling, and the pure joy of driving a high horsepower car. So, to answer the big question, no, there is no such thing as too much horsepower as long as it's street legal. There will always be that niche market.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2014, at 11:29 AM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    @VistaBlueGT: I hear what you're saying. What I'm getting at is that my 70-year-old mom could easily, safely, and comfortably drive my CTS-V at ordinary road speeds and think nothing of it, whereas if you remember the high-horse cars from 20 or 30 years ago, they were kind of one-trick ponies, not something you'd want a grandmother driving. My 1990 ZR-1 was a bear to live with as a daily driver and a serious handful in the rain if you didn't know how to catch it, and that thing was underpowered by today's standards.

    There will always be some kid who gets into stupid amounts of trouble with a car that has more power than he's ready to handle. But at least modern safety systems give him a chance to catch it before the telephone pole catches it for him.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On June 29, 2014, at 11:42 PM, DaTruthHurts wrote:

    "The few wealthy individuals that can afford these gas guzzlers are penalizing the rest of the citizens that live in the same atmosphere"

    It's those kinds of uninformed comments with political agendas that are a distraction from this country moving forward. That poster's real issue is that he can't stand someone else being more successful and spending their hard-earned money as they choose.

    Fact: a well-equiped Toyota Prius at $35,000 costs about as much as a 420+ horsepower Ford Mustang GT. For the wealthy only? No, some people just choose to live differently. And more expensive cars like the Corvette Z06 actually use less fuel (and pollute less) each year than the average Toyota Prius - because many are driven recreationally only on weekends, less than 10K miles per year. (And where do all those used Prius batteries go - landfills?)

    If we really want to solve some of the country's problems, raise taxes for higher incomes but offer much larger deductions for families with children. A hard-working family provider with 3 kids making $150K per year deserves to take home more than a young, single 20-something making $100K per year. Get this country back to the moral priority of strong families. Further, shut down or greatly limit the number of foreign exchange students paying their way into our national landmark universities and blocking higher-education opportunities for Americans. Cut any subsidies to universities with high % foreign exchange student populations. Teach Americans, not foreigners. Additionally, impose a national sales tax on ALL Ecommerce. Level the playing field for in-state retailers across the country who much add sales tax to all local consumer purchases. The entire level of commerce online is grossly inflated by a tax loop-hole that gives them an advantage over traditional retail sales. …Those are the real problems facing this country. Not sales of the Corvette Z06.

    Keep America the greatest country the world has ever known.

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John Rosevear

John Rosevear is the Fool's Senior Auto Specialist. John has been writing about the auto business and investing for over 20 years, and for The Motley Fool since 2007.

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