Following the success of Fiat Chrysler’s two Hellcat muscle cars – high-powered versions of the Dodge Charger sedan and Challenger coupe, -- the automaker is planning to put the 707-horsepower supercharged V-8 engine that powers them into a new model of its popular Jeep Cherokee, sources say.
Several Fiat Chrysler Automobile (FCA) insiders confirmed a report by Car and Driver on Thursday that the Jeep brand is getting ready to launch a 707-horsepower SUV that will be known as the Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk. The vehicle is expected to make its debut in summer 2016, they said.
Fiat Chrysler officials this week have been briefing dealers about plans to expand the Hellcat line during their annual retail get-together in Las Vegas. They’re also advising dealers that they’ve boosted production capacity for the Hellcat engine. Demand has been so strong that orders for the 2015 models had to be cut off well before the end of the model-year.
Like the Dodge Charger and Dodge Challenger Hellcat models, the Trackhawk will be powered by the most powerful engine ever offered in a stock, factory-built U.S. passenger vehicle. That allows the two Dodge models to deliver zero-to-60-mph times that can rival even some of the most exotic European supercars.
Under the hood of the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk, the Hellcat engine is expected to deliver launch times in the range of 3.5 seconds, according to insiders. That would make the SUV even faster than such vaunted rivals as the BMW X5 M.
The Jeep version of the Hellcat could provide a major boost to Fiat Chysler Automobiles (FCA) sales.
Dodge received more than 4,500 orders for the Challenger Hellcat in the first five days after it went on sale in September 2014. The pace only accelerated when the more practical Dodge Charger Hellcat was added soon afterward. That forced Dodge to cut off orders in March for the rest of the 2015 model-year.
Late last month, the automaker announced it would double production of the big Hellcat engine to try to keep up with demand, brand President Tim Kuniskis declaring, “We could not have asked for a more enthusiastic response to the Charger and Challenger SRT Hellcats – it was absolutely unprecedented, but then again, these 707-horsepower muscle cars are unprecedented.”
Dodge has also taken steps to keep dealers from stockpiling Hellcat models to ensure the muscle cars are shipped from factory to showrooms that actually have orders in hand. The industry norm is that a new car will sit on the lot an average 60 days or more before being delivered to a customer. At many dealerships that’s down to single digits.
The success of the Hellcat comes at a time when interest in performance cars is at its strongest level in decades. A surge in demand fueled by relatively cheap gasoline. But it also helps that the latest powertrain technology can deliver both power and fuel economy. Even at 707 horsepower, the EPA rates the Dodge Challenger Hellcat at 22 mpg on the highway. That’s two to three times what a muscle car owner might have been able to achieve in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The decision to add a Hellcat version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee makes sense for the automaker. SUVs and crossover-utility vehicles are expected to outsell sedans in the U.S. market this year, and demand for high-powered versions has been growing. The Trackhawk will go up against an expanding line-up of performance-oriented SUV competitors such as the BMW X5 M.
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