By Michael Hines

Despite finishing in second place behind the Chevrolet Camaro in April, the Ford Mustang still holds a commanding lead through the first third of 2017 in the muscle car sales wars. Last month Chevy sold 8,737 Camaros. That easily outpaced the Mustang, which moved 8,063 models. The Dodge Challenger brought up the rear, with 6,591 sales. This is the first time the Camaro has topped the Mustang in monthly sales since October 2016. For Dodge it’s more of the same. The Challenger finished second place to the Mustang back in February, but usually the beefy muscle car can be found sitting comfortably in last place.

On the year, the Ford Mustang has sold 30,527 units. Chevrolet is a distant second with 24,035 Camaros sold. Dodge may be in third but it’s not far off from Chevy. On the year 22,316 Challengers have been driven off dealer lots. On paper, it would look as if Ford has reason to celebrate. The Mustang is well-positioned to become America’s best-selling muscle car in 2017. However, when compared to 2016’s sales numbers Ford should take pause. On the year, Mustang sales are down 28.8 percent. Chevy can’t celebrate its arch rival’s misery without acknowledging its own slumping sales which are down 7.7 percent compared to this time last year. Funnily enough the folks over at Dodge have the most reason to cheer. Challenger sales are down only 1 percent on the year, with the difference being a mere 115 sales.

Looking ahead it seems likely that Dodge will see a sales gain in 2017. This would be a huge success for parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Realistically FCA may be the only member of the Big Three with positive muscle car growth in 2017. Dodge may also be able to celebrate finishing second place on the year, but it will need to string together a few big months to upend Chevy. The fact that the Challenger is the only American muscle car to offer all-wheel drive should help it stay competitive when fall and winter arrive. However, that advantage may be leveled out by the lack of a convertible model. Convertibles don’t make up the majority of muscle car sales but they do chip in much-needed units, especially when the warmer summer months hit.

For Chevy it seems that all it can hope to do is close the gap with last year’s sales and hope to fend off Dodge for the second spot. The sixth-generation Camaro was released a relatively short time ago, meaning that there will be no refreshed model coming this year to juice the stat sheet. For some strange reason the sixth-generation Camaro has not caught on with consumers like the previous model did. Remember that the fifth-gen model outsold the Mustang for five straight years. Then the new Mustang hit in 2015 and it’s been a wrap for Ford ever since. Despite being lighter, faster, and offering a new engine option (a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo) the sixth-generation Camaro just hasn’t managed to catch on with muscle car fans like the latest Mustang has.

The biggest question mark a third of the way through the year is Ford. The 2018 Mustang goes on sale this fall, and that means there will be no more V6 option. The Mustang will be the only American muscle car not to offer a V6. Will buyers freak out over this? Will they even notice or care? That remains to be seen, although it’s tough to imagine a big outcry. The turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang was both more powerful and fuel-efficient than the V6. While the 2018 Mustang loses an engine option the remaining power plants get boosts in output, although Ford has not revealed the revised power figures of each engine just yet. More powerful engines plus a redesigned exterior and interior should help drive sales. However, sales may suffer a month or two before the 2018 model is released as some buyers decide to wait for the new Mustang rather than buying the old one at a discount.

Through the first third of 2017, it looks like more of the same when it comes to muscle car sales. Ford should again take first place off the strength of the new 2018 Mustang, although it will fall short of 2016’s total sales of 105,932 units. Despite that Dodge appears to be the potential big winner in 2017. The automaker could end up claiming second place overall and seeing a positive growth in year-to-year sales, something its two rivals will not be able to achieve. For Chevy, a win would be holding onto second place while simultaneously reducing its year-to-year sales losses.