It shouldn’t surprise anyone that legacy automakers are leading with their core strengths as they charge towards a battery-electric-vehicle (BEV) future. Mercedes-Benz’s EQS SUV is exactly as stately as you’d expect a top-of-the-line Benz to be even if there’s nary a sound from its engine bay. Similarly, Bayerische Motoren Werke’s iX M60 is every bit the speed demon that BMW always leads with, though its 610 horsepower are driven by lithium ions rather than fossil fuels. Even Toyota Motor Corp. is staying true to form: the bZ4X, its first BEV, is as perfectly sensible as any Camry.
Closer to home, Detroit is straying no further from its traditional modus operandi. For example, Ford Motor Co. started its own electric revolution by fobbing off its most iconic brand name on an SUV — a battery-powered supercar, no less — with the Mach-e looking more like an Escape or Explorer than any Mustang that’s gone before. As a follow-up, it’s electrifying the F-150, its best-selling vehicle and the most popular vehicle in North America.
As simple as it might sound, remaking the classic pickup isn’t nearly as simple as substituting a battery for a V8 engine. Indeed, the truck and SUV segments that North American automakers dominate may yet prove the most difficult to electrify. Multiple reviews have concluded that even the Lightning, which boasts the biggest battery, can barely eke out 160 kilometres of range when towing a trailer. And with battery minerals scarce, the cost of the Lightning’s big batteries — the largest of which is about 140 kilowatt-hours — has begun to threaten the F-150’s affordability, government incentives for electric vehicles notwithstanding. Nonetheless, the waiting list for the first zero-emissions truck on the market is long.
If an electrified pickup is shocking, wait until you get a look at General Motors Co.’s Hummer EV. As outrageous as the original — Arnold Schwarzenegger-approved — the Humvee, GMC’s electrified sport brute, is completely over the top. Its 212.7 kilowatt-hour battery weighs 1,326 kilograms — that’s 2,923 pounds — or more than an entire Honda Civic. It stands over two metres tall, is 2.2 metres wide and stretches more than 5.5 metres from stem to stern. The General even had to invent a low-speed “Crab Walk” function — which makes all four wheels steer in the same direction — for better low-speed maneuverability. Even if it was designed to make off-roading easier, you just know that you’re going to see some giant yellow SUV slithering sideways in a Walmart parking lot somewhere, the suburban equivalent of the Rubicon Trail.
But the prize for sticking to your guns goes to Dodge. In what parent company Stellantis NV is billing as piston power’s “Last Call,” 2023 will be the last year for the traditional Charger and Challenger muscle cars. Gone will be the superchargers and V8s; in are high-voltage inverters and electric motors. Even though this is just the beginning of Dodge’s electrification project, it promises that the first model, the Charger Daytona SRT Banshee, will scream through a quarter-mile in less than 12 seconds.
Despite the hue and cry from traditional Dodge diehards, electrifying muscle cars makes perfect sense. For one thing, the instant torque of an electric motor is every drag racer’s dream. For another, battery-electric’s biggest drawback — namely, its heavy batteries — doesn’t really matter since all Dodge muscle cars are already overweight. And who cares if their range is lousy? How many owners of supercharged Challengers take their gas guzzlers on cross-country tours? Dodge even invented something called a “Fratzonic Chambered Exhaust” to make the new Charger sound a bit like a muscle car. It may not sound like a Demon — or anything piston powered, for that matter — but it’s still loud, brash and impossible to ignore. In other words, it’s as in your face as any Hellcat Redeye.
Just like a 9,000-pound Hummer or an electric SUV named after the most iconic pony car of all time, this is Detroit doing what Detroit does best: big, overpowered vehicles that get your attention. The propulsion system may have changed, but the cars remain the same. FPM