Dodge Challenger Overtakes Ford Mustang for Pony Car Laurels

Not since the Ford Mustang emerged in 1965 has it lost the top position for the segment it best represents: pony cars. But that 56-year streak came to an end in 2021 when the Dodge Challenger lived up to its name and overtook the stallion. Indeed, the Challenger is now the top-seller in a once-bustling, but fast fading sports coupe segment also occupied by the Chevrolet Camaro.

Top Equine: 2021 Dodge Challenger

The Challenger’s ascendancy comes as the Ford Mustang registered double-digit losses, while the Challenger gained sales for the year. Notably, Dodge saw success with one body style – a two-door hardtop while the Mustang also sells a convertible. The two-body-style arrangement is shared with the Chevrolet Camaro, whose sales have declined precipitously and are less than half that of its two competitors. For the record, pony cars are also referenced as muscle cars.

Please check out the following statistics to see where each model sits in the segment:

2021 Pony Car Sales

Make/Model2021 Sales2020 Sales2021/2020 +/-Share %
Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat RedeyeDodge Challenger54,31452,955+3.042.23
Ford Mustang ConvertibleFord Mustang52,41461,090-14.240.75
Chevrolet CamaroChevrolet Camaro21,89329,775-26.517.02

Mustang and Mach-E Sales

The Ford Motor Company shows the sales decline in its most recent annual sales report. That said, in comments about those sales, it adds the Mustang Mach-E EV units (27,140) to the coupe’s units (52,414) to state that Mustang sales totaled 79,554 vehicles in 2021 – up 30.2 over 2020. Doubtlessly, combining a gas-powered coupe with an all-electric crossover utility vehicle is a stretch. It’s not an approach we support as we recognize the Dodge Challenger as the pony car leader for 2021.

For its part, Dodge could easily add the 78,000+ sales for the four-door Charger to the mix if they wanted to. Indeed, the Challenger and Charger are much more alike than different, and that’s a point Ford cannot claim with the Mustangs.

Aged Challenger, Newer Competitors

What’s especially interesting about the results is that the Challenger is based on a 14-year design, while both the Mustang and Camaro benefitted from more recent overhauls in 2016. Helping the Challenger immensely is the brand’s quest to deliver multiple variants on the theme. Indeed, the Challenger is one of the three rear-wheel-drive models offering optional all-wheel drive, although only with the V6 engine.

Further, while both Chevrolet and Ford offer turbocharged four-cylinder engines, the Challenger keeps things simple with naturally aspirated V6 and V8 engines. Only a supercharged V8 is available, and that one is restricted to the Hellcat and its many permutations.

The Current Landscape

The pony car segment is also a shell of its former self. When the modern segment emerged with the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro returning in the late 2000s, only the Ford Mustang remained. The previous models in the segment included the AMC Javelin, Plymouth ‘Cuda, Pontiac Firebird, and the Mercury Cougar. All four of the last group involve discontinued brands, leaving the segment to the mainstays.

Yet, the segment received a boost in the early 2010s as the Camaro coupe returned and was quickly followed by a convertible. During those days, the Camaro and Mustang traded the top position with the Challenger coming in a distant third. Credit the many special Challenger models with building sales momentum even as Dodge kept with the original design and eschewed adding a convertible.

Looking Ahead

Electrification will have a huge impact on a segment that is seeing slumping sales. Car sales, in general, remain quite small, therefore manufacturers seem to loathe to invest in muscle cars. Even so, these models serve as halos for their respective brands and won’t easily disappear.

With this in mind, we expect that parent Stellantis will invest in developing a new Challenger model, absent V8 engines, but offering a twin-turbo V6 and likely a plug-in hybrid option. For GM, the Camaro will stay around as long as the Cadillac CT4 and CT5 models are sold as all three are based on a common platform.

As for the Mustang, we’ve heard rumors that a two-door Mach-E is on the way. If that chatter becomes fact, the Mustang as we know it may soon become a full-electric car.

The statistics used herein were acquired from the respective manufacturer.

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Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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