Stoplights will get a lot more interesting this spring. For the first time in 26 years, the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger will face off head-to-head-to-head as new models.
General Motors began building the 2010 Camaro and Ford started rolling out redesigned 2010 Mustangs in March, and Chrysler's Dodge brand will introduce new retro colors such as B-5 blue for its 2009 Challengers.
The last time these cars were true muscle cars at the same time was in 1974, when "Blazing Saddles" was in theaters, Hank Aaron still trailed Babe Ruth in total home runs at the start of the season and President Richard Nixon was battling the Watergate scandal.
2009 Dodge Challenger
- Starting price: $21,820
- Base engine: 3.5-liter V-6
- Horsepower: 250
- Gas mileage: 17 mpg city / 25 mpg highway
- Available: Now
- Comments: The biggest and most retro.
2010 Chevrolet Camaro
- Starting price: $22,245
- Base engine: 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6
- Horsepower: 300
- Gas mileage: Estimated 27 mpg highway
- Available: This spring
- Comments: The most futuristic with high technology.
2010 Ford Mustang
- Starting price: $20,995
- Base engine: 4-liter V-6
- Horsepower: 210
- Gas mileage: 18 mpg city / 26 mpg highway
- Available: This spring
- Comments: Only convertible in the bunch.
Anticipation is high that these three vehicles could help dealers attract buyers this year.
Ed Kim, director of industry analysis at AutoPacific, a marketing research firm, says that while the overall car market will continue to suffer, the addition of the three muscle cars will certainly draw more customers to the sport coupe segment. All three vehicles create an emotional connection with buyers, and that's an essential aspect to any car purchase.
"The people we're going for are passionate drivers," says Karen Rafferty, Chevrolet's director of product marketing. In particular, Rafferty said, Chevrolet wants to target women and import sports car buyers such as those driving the Nissan 350Z and Infiniti G35.
Allison Revier, the Mustang brand manager, says Ford is also targeting women. "Younger females make up 50 percent of our V-6 sales," she says. "They don't need a GT (which comes with a V-8), but they like the car's exterior styling."
All three manufacturers say they're ready to rumble with their cross-town rivals in a race for King of the Coupes as they talk up their cars with moxie and verve.
With strong pent-up demand for the Camaro, Chevrolet says it has already sold 14,000 of the fifth-generation muscle car. The model was discontinued in 2002 and reintroduced as a concept vehicle in 2006 at the Detroit auto show.
A similar sales surge was seen last year when Dodge revived the Challenger. Dodge discontinued making the Challenger in 1974, offering only a rebadged Japanese-built version until 1983. When it was introduced last spring, Dodge sold out of its 2008 Challenger SRT8 before launching the full lineup in the summer.
Ford has the largest base of customers -- it introduced the Mustang in 1964 and has sold 800,000 units since Chevy pulled out of the muscle-car game in 2002, according to Mike Crowley, marketing manager for Ford's cars.
"There is going to be a lot of competition out there," he says. "We don't see this segment having a big decline."
Chevrolet is ready for the competition. "We're going to beat Mustang this year," Chevrolet's general manager, Ed Peper, said at the Chicago Auto Show.
Mike Accavitti, the director of Dodge, threw down a different kind of challenge.
"Maybe we should all meet on Telegraph [Road] or Woodward [Avenue]," he said. "Just bring your pink slips."