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Demon dragster roaring into showrooms

November 11, 2017 GMT

The Demon is coming.

Dodge’s 840-horsepower 2018 Challenger SRT Demon, billed as “the most powerful muscle car in history,” started shipping to dealers Friday. The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV brand is only producing 3,300 of much-hyped, street-legal dragsters — 3,000 in the United States and 300 in Canada.

The Demon is certified by the National Hot Rod Association as “the world’s fastest quarter-mile production vehicle,” Dodge said in a statement. The dragster achieves 0-60 mph in 2.3 seconds.

Each of the limited-edition Dodge Challenge SRT Demons comes with a slew of goodies, including a collectible tech manual written by the editors of Hot Rod magazine that details all of the technical components of the Demon and offers instructions for making the muscle car track-ready. It starts at nearly $85,000, excluding delivery.

Dodge unveiled the Demon amid a flurry of sparks, smoke and sirens ahead of the New York auto show in April. Since then, it appeared as Vin Diesel’s whip in “Fate of the Furious.” The muscle car was also prominently featured in music videos for songs in the Fast and Furious sequel.

All of this hype was met with some predictable skepticism, but its effects weren’t necessarily as narrow as critics believed. Other less expensive versions of the Dodge Challenger and Charger posted sales increases this year while the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang lost ground. The Challenger was down about 6 percent in October, but its year-to-date deliveries are still up 1.6 percent. The Charger was up 19 percent in October.

“We haven’t built the first one yet, but people have been talking about this car since January,” Tim Kuniskis, head of passenger car brands at FCA said in August, a full seven months after the first Demon spectacle. “So the hype has been building and selling other Challengers. Our Challenger sales are through the roof. We’re having an all-time record year to date.”

The Challenger’s specialty segment is struggling as the industry caters to investor interest in an electrified and autonomous future and car buyers favor crossovers and SUVs. The Challenger’s segment, which includes the Mustang and the Camaro, is down about 20 percent through October.

Those electrics and their hybrid cousins still aren’t much of a sales boon either, with each nameplate moving a couple thousand units a month at most. The retail market is still heavily driven by pick up trucks and SUVs, with demand for pickups driving profits for all three Detroit automakers.

This poses a dilemma for Dodge, which was spun off from Ram Trucks in 2010. The brand needs these halo vehicles — including the Demon halo within the larger Challenger halo — to capitalize on its origins as a producer of muscle cars and set itself apart in the lagging sedan market.

“Vehicles like the Demon keep the media talking about the brand, but we haven’t really seen any new nameplates in a while and there’s really no room for anything new to be coming,” said Dave Sullivan, analyst for AutoPacific. “The Demon buys (Dodge) some time, but the future is unknown for the brand.”