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Muscle losing its appeal?
Demand high enough to rev pricing, but some say market dwindling
Dallas Morning News
TULSA, Okla. - Rushing through torrential rain on Interstate 44, the Shelby Mustang GT 500 splashes smoothly through road pools at speed.
This extreme 500-horsepower muscle car -- the newest factory hot rod from Detroit -- weathered that storm with ease and grace. But the GT 500 and other domestic muscle cars may face tougher tests ahead.
Demand for the GT 500 is so high that it has pushed the car's $42,000 base price to $50,000 or more at many dealerships, but some industry observers think it could be the last 500-horsepower muscle car out of Detroit.
With gas prices high and baby boomers nearing retirement, the sun may be setting on traditional American muscle cars.
Moreover, as General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. struggle financially, the money to develop these cars may be limited.
"I think there is a built-in demographic for these cars now," said Michael Jordan, chief of Automobile magazine's Los Angeles bureau, who wrote a story on muscle cars for the July issue.
"But it's totally correct to say this is not a big boom market. I just don't see more of the ...(500-horsepower cars) coming from Detroit."
Though no one is predicting the imminent demise of all muscle cars, their slow fade could pose a significant challenge for Detroit.
Although the cars primarily appeal to over-50 buyers, they are the Big Three's main "halo" vehicles -- attention-grabbers for the entire brand.
Without high-profile cars like the GT 500 -- which should arrive at dealerships within 60 days -- and the Z06 Corvette, the Dodge Viper and Charger SRT-8, "the domestics are left with nothing in the way of halo vehicles," said Wes Brown, an analyst at industry consultant Iceology in Los Angeles.
"I don't know if we are at the peak or not," he said. "I guess it will be determined by how well these cars are executed."
Muscle cars may evolve into smaller, lighter, more economical vehicles that appeal to younger buyers, but they won't fade away altogether, predicted Jim Sanfillippo, executive vice president of industry consultant AMCI Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
"Do these cars have a bright future?" Sanfillippo said. "No. But they were always a niche. What you will see in the future is smaller-displacement V-8s, direct injection for power and efficiency, lighter materials. They may be different from today's muscle cars, but they will still be muscle cars."
With the arrival of the GT 500, four domestic vehicles now have at least 500 horsepower -- including the Corvette Z06, Dodge Viper, and Dodge Ram SRT-10.
Sales of those low-volume, ultra-high-performance vehicles are likely to slow first, industry officials say.
All told, ultra-high-performance cars account for less than 100,000 sales -- a tiny portion of the overall new-vehicle market of about 17 million annually.
But muscle cars are enormously influential.
The GT 500, for example, is on the July cover of Car and Driver, Automobile and Motor Trend magazines.
Angus MacKenzie, editor in chief of Motor Trend, and others in the industry expect Chevrolet to build a new Camaro and Dodge to build a new Challenger, providing more opportunities for future muscle cars.
In fact, Chrysler Group officials announced last Saturday at a NASCAR race in Daytona that the company will build the Challenger. It's expected to arrive at dealerships in about a year.