By on April 28, 2017

Dodge Challenger SRT Demon

After the reveal of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Dodge Demon at the New York Auto Show, I thought all the hooplah would be over. We all did. Little did I know Automotive News’ editorial board would pen a screed calling for the Demon’s banishment from American roads, which then caused others to cry foul at the bylineless editorial, and subsequently triggered Larry Vellequette — the author of the original piece — to double down on his thoughts, name attached.

In the last piece, Mr. Vellequette claims, “It is still a stupid idea for Fiat Chrysler to outfit the Dodge Demon as a high-performance drag racer and then sell it to the motoring public in a form that makes it inherently more dangerous off the track.”

He’s not wrong. Drag radials come fitted to the Demon from the factory, and he claims they’re “prone to lose traction in even a light morning mist under that much torque — regardless of electronic intervention.” I won’t argue with that.

But I will argue with the logic upon which Mr. Vellequette bases his call for exorcising this Demon from America’s roads, and who he thinks should do something about it.

First things first: I think Larry’s opinion is coming from a good place, and not one where he despises seeing those of us not driving Fiat 500Ls having more fun than him. Still, this editorial comes from a dealer-friendly publication, and it reeks of hypocrisy.

For starters, Larry calls out FCA for selling the Demon to people who may not have the training or personal self-control necessary to safely pilot a 840-horsepower car on drag radials in a light rain on the street. If you’ve learned anything by reading TTAC, it should be this: automakers don’t sell vehicles to the public; dealers do.

This is important.

While one could make the argument against FCA building a vehicle that’s unsafe from the factory, someone could also argue it’s the dealers’ responsibility to not sell an unsafe product directly to customers. You won’t see any dealer-aimed criticism from Automotive News, which has almost every dealer in America subscribing to the publication and hosts numerous sales, F&I, and other dealer-oriented workshops throughout the United States and online.

Still, we know dealers will sell anything to anyone if they’re allowed to do so. Don’t believe me? Ask Automotive News.

Instead, Vellequette makes a case for holding FCA responsible for manufacturing a safe product, so let’s focus on that.

From the latest editorial:

Yes, we live in a free country — and from what I have read this week, it’s now called “Murica,” where the word “freedom” is permanently substituted for the word “responsibility.”

But every freedom in this nation has a legal limit. We have freedom of speech, yet do not have the legal freedom to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We have the freedom to keep and bear arms, yet do not have the freedom to legally own shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.

Emphasis mine.

The automotive free market will undertake all sorts of actions — dubious or otherwise — to turn a buck for shareholders. That includes neglecting to install wheel blocks on base-model versions of America’s most popular vehicle to save money on manufacturing costs. That includes installing weird doors on a lusted-after SUV that one cannot open manually without reading the owner’s manual — even though back-seat passengers are rarely the owners of the vehicles in which they ride.

And that includes putting drag radials on a 840-horsepower street car.

Thankfully, there’s one way to make sure someone does not shout “fire” in a crowded theater, and it’s surprisingly effective: legislation.

Yes, it’s a dreaded word, especially when it comes to the freedom afforded to us by the automobile. But it’s also the same thing that keeps you from dying in a crash thanks to mandatory seat belt laws, the requirement of airbags, and crash-protection rules administered by the NHTSA. The rule of law, not the rule of commerce, ensures you cannot legally own a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. Without that law, many enterprising entrepreneurs in America would line up to sell the first rocket to a willing, civilian buyer.

A law wouldn’t be that difficult to implement. Here, in Ontario, Canada, one cannot pass a motor vehicle inspection with tires sized differently than the vehicle was fitted with from the factory. The same type of legislation effort could be applied to drag radials. Additionally, it’s much harder to hide drag radials from the cops than it is to hide your texting-and-driving habit should lawmakers make drag-radial street use illegal.

FCA is not going to cave and cancel the Demon before it arrives at dealers. Even Larry’s suggestion that FCA sell the Demon with street tires and a $1 upgrade to drag radials — as it does if a Demon buyer wants to add the front and rear passenger seats — isn’t going to stop someone from slapping the soft-sidewalled rubber back on this drag king before running down Woodward.

But legislating the legality of drag radials on the street will stop every motorist, no matter the vehicle, from driving with these supposed unsafe tires, and requiring safe tires during the a government-mandated inspection process ensures dealers must deliver a vehicle affixed with proper rubber.

There is the law of unintended consequences, though.

Remember that Ontario law that states a vehicle must be fitted with the same size tires as I cited above? The Demon runs a 315/40R18, which is only offered as a drag radial, meaning it may be difficult to run anything but drag radials on Demons in the province thanks to the law.

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21 Comments on “Vellequette Cops to Automotive News Demon-Ban Piece, Proves You Can Be Right and Wrong at the Same Time...”


  • avatar
    ajla

    “But legislating the legality of drag radials on the street will stop every motorist, no matter the vehicle, from driving with these supposed unsafe tires”

    LOL.

    • 0 avatar

      You know what I mean, ajla. If drag radials are as dangerous as Larry suggests, why are they legal to run on our roads?

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Mark, look up the model number of the tires on the Demon, then go take a look at the online reviews of the tire. Specifically the hydroplaning issues – and most of the reviewers only had them on the back only.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        There are drag radials that meet DOT standards. IIRC guys refer to them as “Cheater slicks”.

        If a car comes with USA DOT (Department of Transport) or Canada MOT (Ministry of Transport) approved hard-wear then it already meets requirements.

        If the Demon is sold with “race only” and/or “closed course competition only” tires then it is not legal for the street.

        No real need for new legislation unless rules are more lax in the USA.

        I ran across sorting out “road legal” requirements when I made a KTM 620 dirt bike street legal. I had full knobby tires on it but they had DOT stamps on them. Fully legal.

        There were times when I had my YZF1000 “road checked” by police and the common attempt to get me off the street was claiming my tires were illegal. Pointing out the DOT stamp ended that discussion rather quickly.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          This.

          An informative 101 level read on the topic:

          http://www.stangtv.com/tech-stories/wheels-tires/dot-drag-radials-101-what-you-need-to-know-about-drag-radials/

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I’ve seen a street car with 3 in straight pipe exhaust, a very large aftermarket turbocharger, actually dangerous Mickey Thompson wrinkle wall slicks, and a valid inspection sticker. Throw cash at the inspection process and cash wins. However, it’s not that difficult to find barely street legal tires and performance upgrades that can still pass a state inspection without bribes.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “While one could make the argument against FCA building a vehicle that’s unsafe from the factory, someone could also argue it’s the dealers’ responsibility to not sell an unsafe product directly to customers.”

    Someone could argue that, but I would disagree.

    Dealers sell the product they have available. Safety is a gray area, and therefore one could also argue that fitting the Demon with street tires makes it unsafe.

    “Unsafe” is a shady word. Riding a 250 cc dirtbike without a helmet in high-speed traffic is perfectly safe until you crash. Most things are perfectly safe until they’re abused – cars, guns, sex, painkillers, alcohol, money, politics, and religion – just to name a few.

    However, I do believe dealers should own the responsibility to NOT sell vehicle that are subject to a recall, since the MFR has deemed them unsafe – not an auto journalist.

    It’s not like the Demon only has two settings – full throttle or Park. I’m sure the car can be driven gently to run errands, without ever chirping the tires.

    Similarly, some people have wondered how an EV can be driven safely in the snow, “with all that instant torque”. The answer is simple – don’t floor it.

  • avatar
    FrankE39

    Dodge/FCA has done a great job keeping a 12 year old platform interesting.

    Most of these cars will NEVER see a drag strip, never mind the street.

    They will be stored in a climate controlled garage as an investment. This car is considered is the modern “Dodge Daytona Charger” and the resale will be similar in a few years.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    California, which seems to have laws covering just about everything, requires certain tread depth. Would these tire pass the requirement? California’s law is complicated, but requirements range from 1/32 of an inch to 4/32 of an inch depending on “major” or “minor” grooves and on if they are mounted on a tire that steers.

  • avatar
    MrIcky

    If Auto News’ did anything, it was increase interest in the demon.

    Frankly, there has ALWAYS been some car that was reported to be too unsafe to fall into people’s hands. 911’s, Carrera GTs, Dodge Coronets with the 426, Ford Pintos, Chevy Blazers, Fieros, Bronco IIs, Suzuki Samurais, Cobalts (a personal favorite, I still miss my SS), Ford Explorers….I’m missing some I’m sure, but it seems like once every couple years an article like this gets written and then the press jumps on it, and the press starts discussing the press, and then the journalist who wrote it becomes the interview subject, etc.

    All of these, for at least some portion of their production, were all deemed to dangerous to drive by someone. So leave it home on rainy days or get some 20’s with 315/30s. Unless you are in Canada. 300 Canadians are destined to die I guess. Sorry, eh.

  • avatar
    hamish42

    The deadliest car of all time was my much-loved Lotus Europa JPS Special. I realistically expected to die every time I took it out. I didn’t, against all odds, but I will never understand why. They should have been jailed for making the thing.

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    Reminds me of the “killer supercar” edition of the motoring press in Australia, circa 70’s. At that time to race at the Bathurst 500, the homologation rules stated that you had to produce and sell 500 examples of your car to the public. This is what produced the Phase III GTHO Falcon and all its cousins from Holden & Chrysler. When Ford put pen to paper to produce the Phase IV GTHO, certain publications went into a feeding frenzy about haveing these “killer 200mph plus” cars let loose onto public roads. In the ensuing furore, most state governments, I think, mooted the possibility of legislating these cars out of existence. Ford et al shelved the plans to build the cars. That’s the power of the media to make or break ideas and take on the role of public safety and censors, because “we know best”.

  • avatar

    “We have freedom of speech, yet do not have the legal freedom to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. ”

    No, what Justice Holmes said was, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

    You most certainly have the legal rigth to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, if there is indeed a fire.

    And no, the fact that you may want to react to my free speech with violence does not make that speech “fighting words”.

    The number of supposed journalists who express a “I’m for free speech, but…” attitude is depressing, but then what should I expect from the Automotive News when the New York Times excuses campus totalitarians criminally violating the First Amendment rights of others to assemble?

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    FCA is the Fox News of car companies.

    The quality is crap, but they provide exactly what rednecks want.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    And then where does all this snowflake crap stop? Should we just go ahead and ban any vehicle that can go 90? Because driving 90 is dangerous and illegal.

    Where was all of this fake outrage when heavy duty pickup trucks started having 700, 800, 900+ foot pounds of torque? The Ford Super Duty has 925 foot pounds of torque. Where is the outrage? Oh, thats right. When Ford does stuff like this its fine and they are heralded. When Chrysler does it, we must ban the car because the children may get hurt.

    It’s not about the number folks. It’s not about the tires. It’s about personal responsibility. STOP trying to legislate personal responsibility.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Vellequette is way off base.

    His views are unprofessional, baseless, and hypocritical**.
    Who is he to impose a shut-down judgment on someone else’s car if he wants to buy it?
    Is he trying to be a Big Daddy Socialist Government replacement, or what? (Thought we got rid of that.)
    Does he want to ban guns too, in case they might hurt somebody?
    We have a (mostly) free market in this country: if that’s not what he believes, then he should LEAVE.
    People have a choice to buy or not buy this car, knowing full well what it’s capable of: it’s THEIR responsibility.
    And realistically, there won’t be that many made (3000?) even to make an issue out of!

    —————-
    ** Why hasn’t he banned the RWD Lamborghini’s or their instability, especially the old Gallardo’s?
    Why hasn’t he banned the Callaway Z06 Corvette with its 750 HP?
    Or how about the older Porsche 911’s with their rear-heavy instability that can kill you?
    Why not block the new Camaro Z28 with its 650 HP?
    How about the LaFerrari with its 949 HP? (http://www.roadandtrack.com…
    What about the 1500-HP Bugatti Chiron article, pages 58-62, in the latest (June) issue of “Car And Driver”?
    Where does his attempt to stifle market-place innovation stop?
    Is he going to publish a ban on anything that he personally doesn’t like? — the new Car Czar?
    —————-

    Again, Vellequette is way out of line, and his do-gooder predecessor, — one Ralph Nader by name — virtually single-handedly derailed an entire market segment by exaggerated and unwarranted safety hysteria.

    The tragedy of that unjustified attack (which is what it was) on GM with respect to the Corvair, meant a shut down of any movement toward a rear or mid-engined vehicle made in the America — EVEN AFTER GM FIXED THE SWING-AXLE PROBLEM! (The Corvair was actually a very nice little car, and could have served as the role-model for many others like it, perhaps produced by Ford and/or Chrysler.)

    I heard Nader speak at something called “Freedom Forum” in Schenectady, NY, in the early 1970’s. His self-serving tirade and factual machinations were so obvious that my wife and I left half way through.
    I’ve been around the block for a while and have seen a lot of distortion and exaggeration preached in the name of safety. This Vellequette nonsense, though phrased more subtly, is of that ilk and equally dangerous to the automobile industry in America.

    Let us call him out on it — vigorously. This journalistic overreach has got to stop. It’s similar to the “fake news” created by essentially biased socialist outlets like CNN, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, USA Today, and others.

    ======================================

  • avatar
    SanJoseCarsExaminer

    What is missing, and seemingly the crux of the matter, is the fact drag radials are NOT dangerous tires. They are legal, DOT approved and the Demon boasts a lateral 1g of cornering traction and a world class braking distance. The entire controversy is ridiculous.


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