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Associated Press
The 2015 Dodge Challenger draws a crowd after its introduction Thursday at the New York International Auto Show.

Automakers go full throttle

Show in New York celebrates America’s love for muscle cars

– Who says America has lost its muscle?

Growling, unapologetic performance is the theme of this year’s New York International Auto Show, which opens to the public today. Sure, there’s something called the EV Pavilion, where visitors can ride around in a plug-in hybrid. But automakers didn’t introduce any hybrids or electrics at the show.

The focus is on power.

Dodge unveiled the 2015 Challenger, which will offer a 6.4-liter, 485-horsepower V-8. Swedish supercar maker Koenigsegg debuted its $1.6 million Agera R supercar, which gets 1,140 horsepower (that’s not a typo) and has a top speed of 273 mph. There was a new Corvette convertible and an Alfa Romeo sports car.

Ford kicked off the show by putting a bright yellow 2015 Mustang on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.

Dodge chief Tim Kuniskis said internal surveys of car buyers consistently show that about a quarter of America’s 16 million car buyers are most interested in performance.

“Muscle cars are really not niche cars,” he said. “There are 4.5 million people looking for cars like this – very emotional cars that they can connect with.”

Dodge buyers are overwhelmingly male and young, Kuniskis said. The average buyer of the brawny, four-door Dodge Charger is 46, which is 17 years younger than the average for the full-size car segment. The Challenger, too, attracts younger buyers, despite its retro styling. Both cars will go on sale this year.

There are other factors behind this enduring love of muscle. Gas prices have stabilized, so many customers aren’t as concerned about fuel economy.

U.S. gas prices averaged $3.51 per gallon last year and are expected to average $3.45 this year, according to government statistics.

“People aren’t as averse to performance vehicles and vehicles that don’t get as much fuel economy,” said Eric Lyman, vice president of editorial at Automotive Lease Guide, which forecasts values for used cars.

At the same time, manufacturers are making all of their cars more efficient. The Charger offers two engine choices, one of which gets 31 miles per gallon, while the sporty Alfa Romeo 4C gets 28 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. The new Mustang, which goes on sale at the end of this year, will offer Ford’s EcoBoost engine, which gives a smaller four-cylinder the power of a larger engine.

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