There are no two ways about it: for the last decade (at least) the automotive industry has been at the height of the horsepower wars. One could be mistaken for thinking we hit the peak when Dodge announced the SRT Hellcat, giving an insane 707 horsepower to the fairly average Challenger, and then sold it for around $65,000. Now, at the top end of the market, citing cars like the Porsche GT2 RS and McLaren 720S, the new norm is around 700 horsepower. Not to mention the hybrid hypercars from McLaren, Ferrari, Porsche and the 1,184 hp Bugatti Chiron. But this numerical one-upmanship is present across all price ranges — muscle cars, sports cars and hatchbacks use the horsepower rating as the main selling point. I think that’s all going to change over the next year and the manufacturers that don’t catch on are going to take a hit.
I’m not saying horsepower will cease to be a factor in selling performance cars altogether, but having a lighter car than the competition will make all the difference in the coming years. You’ll begin to see a lot more brands boasting about how much weight a car has lost compared to the previous generation. What companies like Ford, Chevy and BMW will soon find out (if they haven’t already) is that a massive percentage of their customers will never use or appreciate the 450-plus hp the Mustang GT, Camaro SS and M3 are capable of cranking out. Looking at the situation logically, if the current mainstream trend continues, the eighth generation base Mustang will have around 600 horsepower. And for what? Soon, investing millions in research and development for horsepower gains will become a ridiculous waste of capital.
One car making waves in the less-is-more marketing strategy is the new Renault Alpine A110. It’s going up against the venerable Porsche Cayman and it’s doing it with 60-plus horsepower deficit. However, instead of investing money in horsepower, the French skunkworks team focused on minimalistic design, engineering and lightweight materials. Not only did the exercise cut down on costs, the lack of weight translates directly into not solely cornering performance, but also acceleration and better gas mileage. Over 70 years ago, Colin Chapman said “adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere,” and it still rings true.
Supercars and upper echelon sports cars will of course still brag about horsepower numbers because that statistic has become so incredibly synonymous with value and price, but you’ll see the actual numbers start to plateau. Which still works out great for the average car buyer and enthusiast because, generally, the lower the horsepower, the lower the price. Keep in mind, the best sports cars in history — the Mercedes 300SL, Jaguar E-type, Aston Martin DB5, BMW E30 M3 — all had under 300 hp and weighed under 3,000 lbs. Lighter is just better.