On July 8th, Stellantis will hold the company’s first ever “EV Day”, and on that day, it is expected that we will get our first look at how the Dodge brand will introduce electrification. Of course, all of the other brands under the newly-formed corporate umbrella are likely to be addressed as well, but for today’s discussion, we are focusing on the Dodge brand – mainly the Challenger and Charger – but this information could apply to the Durango at some point as well. So far, there has been no real indication as to what to expect for the Dodge brand during the Stellantis EV Day presentation, but we are expecting some electrification news for the future of the Challenger and Charger. Based on news from 2019, we are expecting that some Hemi-powered hybrids are on their way and before you sneer at the idea, read on.
ZF 4th Gen 8HP Transmission
Back in July of 2019, ZF announced that the German company had come to terms with FCA to supply their 4th generation automatic transmissions for rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive vehicles. One key aspect of that announcement was that a “significant share of hybrid transmissions” will be included in the deal. Back then, the press release announcing FCAs plans to use the next generation ZF transmissions didn’t include any power numbers, but when we got to looking around the ZF website, we came across some pretty interesting numbers.
While the press release from July 2019 doesn’t make mention of a plug-in hybrid transmission, the image included with that statement shows the “Gen 4” 8-speed plug-in hybrid transmission (above), which ZF lists as a 2022 product. Like the other ZF hybrid automatic transmissions, the Gen 4 8-speed uses an integrated electric motor that is mounted inside of the transmission case, so it looks a great deal like a conventional automatic transmission, just with a slightly larger bell housing. This integrated electric motor allows the ZF transmission to provide its own power, so it can function as both an electric vehicle and a gas-electric hybrid.
According to the ZF website, the Gen 4 plug-in hybrid 8-speed offers 160 kilowatts and 450 nM of torque just from the integrated electric drive motor. In muscle car terms, those figures translate to 215 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque of all-electric power. In other words, if the Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger had this ZF plug-in hybrid transmission with the proper battery system to achieve peak performance, they could have around 215 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque in all-electric mode. For creeping around town and through traffic, that is plenty of gas-free power when you have a Hemi waiting for the sign to roar to life.
More importantly, in addition to offering around 215 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque on battery power, the ZF Gen 4 8-speed plug-in hybrid transmission is capable of handling a total output of up to 550 kilowatts and 1,000 newton-meters of torque when coupled with the right gasoline engine. In terms that make sense to Mopar owners, that is 738 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque, and for those wondering, the current generation of the ZF 8HP transmission lineup also has an official range that tops out at 1,000 newton-meters, so there is no drop in capacity with the addition of the integrated electric motor.
Imagine a Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Hybrid that gets better fuel economy, sounds just as great in most driving situations, offers an all-electric mode for slower city driving and packs a little more power. That is a hybrid that is hard for anyone to hate.
So, we know that the new ZF plug-in hybrid 8-speed transmission delivers up to 215hp and 332 lb-ft of torque from the electric motor, we should be clear that those figures wouldn’t just be added on top of the Hemi power numbers to get the official, total system output. When the electric portion of a hybrid system kicks in, it doesn’t provide its peak output at the same point in the powerband as the gasoline engine, so the peak output of the gasoline engine and the peak output of the electric drive generally don’t come at the same point.
In other words, adding a 215 horsepower integrated electric motor to the transmission of the Charger or Challenger Hellcat with 717 horsepower does not lead to a total system output of 932 horsepower. Ideally, the electric output could be tuned to add just enough horsepower and torque at peak gasoline engine output to bring the total system output just shy of the official capacities of the transmission.
Perhaps the electric motor could be tuned to deliver just enough assistance at the point of peak engine output to help create 730 horsepower and 700 lb-ft of torque. That would be a small increase in horsepower, a significant increase in torque and a dramatic increase in overall efficiency thanks to the all-electric and hybrid assist aspects of the system – all without losing the sound and feel of the mighty Hellcat Hemi.
Dodge Scat Pack Hybrids
While I like to imagine everything in the future as having the Hellcat Hemi, it could be more beneficial to the company in a variety of ways if they were to hybridize the Dodge Challenger and Charger Scat Pack with the 392-cubic inch Hemi. Those models currently offer 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque, and since being introduced for the 2015 model year, they have been the most popular of the V8-powered models, offering price-per-horsepower like no other vehicles on the market.
With these models being so popular, it would be a great benefit to the company to increase the fuel economy figures. The federal fuel economy regulations known to most as CAFÉ laws are based on the overall portfolio of vehicles of a company and the system is weighted by sales volume. In short, vehicles that sell in greater numbers, like the Charger, have a far bigger impact than low-volume models like the Dodge Viper. Along similar lines, the more affordable Scat Pack cars have a greater impact on the company’s fleet fuel economy figures than the Hellcat cars, so improving the fuel economy of the Scat Pack models would actually help to offset the Hellcat models.
While it is hard to guess exactly how much horsepower and torque from the ZF Gen 4 transmission will be applied to the peak power figures of the various Hemi engines, when discussing the potential Hellcat hybrid above, we used 13 horsepower and 50 lb-ft of torque. Just to be clear, I completely pulled those numbers out of thin air. The actual electric assist at peak engine performance could be much higher – I’m really not sure. However, with the electric motor being capable of delivering 215hp and 332 lb-ft of torque of all-electric power, 13hp and 50tq seems reasonable.
Let’s say that with the 392 Hemi, the integrated electric motor can offer 15 horsepower and 50 lb-ft of torque on top of peak engine output. That would lead to a Charger and Challenger Scat Pack with 500 horsepower and 525 lb-ft of torque, in addition to improved fuel economy and an all-electric mode.
The Future of the Hemi
Many people are concerned that the push for electrification will lead to the elimination of the Hemi V8. Fortunately, federal emission and fuel economy laws such as CAFÉ do provide some space for high performance, low-MPG vehicles, provided that the brand in question also offers some efficient vehicles as well. CAFÉ regulations are based on the overall portfolio of vehicles sold by a company and it is weighted based on sales numbers, so high volume vehicles have a much bigger impact than low volume vehicles. For example, the Dodge Viper has never had any real impact on the company’s fuel economy numbers since it was sold in such limited quantities, but the Hemi cars sell well enough that some things need to change in order for them to survive.
For the Hemi to exist into the future, it needs to become at least a little more fuel-friendly and the company lineup needs to include some hybrids and all-electric vehicles to help raise the overall fuel economy score of the company. The new partnership with Peugeot should yield new small-car architecture, including some hybrid and all-electric models, but the harder task is making the Dodge cars more fuel efficient without diminishing the muscle car feel.
Based on company news over the past year, there is a good possibility that Dodge will hybridize the Challenger and Charger with the Gen 4 ZF 8-speed automatic transmission. If that is the case, this will allow us all to enjoy a few more good years of great-sounding, Hemi-powered muscle cars. While people might hate the idea of a Charger or Challenger hybrid, this is the best solution to save the Hemi as government restrictions tighten. Best of all, the addition of hybrid technology will almost certainly lead to more power and better fuel economy without much impact on driving dynamics. Of course, there is also the Ram eTorque system (shown above), which would improve fuel economy and offer a bit more power, but with the new ZF transmissions on the way, it seems more likely that the Dodge cars will feature the integrated hybrid transmissions. Since the Ram brand also uses the 8HP gearboxes, it seems possible that the Gen 4 ZF transmissions may find their way into the Ram 1500 at some point, as well as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer lineup.