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Ford, Chrysler "Power" Rides Face Difficult Road Ahead

2008 Dodge Challenger
Source: dodge.com
2008 Dodge Challenger

As if it's not already tough enough to sell a new car or truck with gas over $4 a gallon. Now imagine trying to push a couple a well known models built for power, not fuel efficiency.

That's the challenge facing Chrysler with its new Dodge Challenger and Fordwith the latest version of the F-150 pick-up truck. Ford faces an easier sell because it's more popular and is a truck that sells because so many contractors need the utility. Still, Ford and Chrysler have to push these new models at a time when fuel efficiency, not power, is what buyers want.

So Chrysler is not playing up the Challenger's HEMI engine as the classic muscle car returns. Who can blame them. The HEMI was a hot selling point a few years ago when gas was cheap and buyers clamored for power. Those days are over. While there are still many people who want a powerful engine, the primary selling point right now is fuel efficiency. So Chrysler is marketing the Challanger's classic styling and given the limited production, the new car will sell out.

For Ford, the challenge is different, and in some ways both easier and tougher. It will be easier to sell the new F-150 when it comes out later this year because of it's popularity and demand by contractors who will need a new truck. But in a down economy with gas prices surging, convincing buyers they need to upgrade to a new pick-up truck won't be easy.

Yes, Ford will tout the fact this F Series truck is more fuel efficient (about 1 mpg greater than the current model) and has more versatility. Both are true. But I suspect the success of the news F-150 will ultimately hinge on the economy rebounding.

Either way, the Challenger and F-150 are coming out at a tough time.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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