Dodge to Tesla: Eat Your Heart Out

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There is a new battle for the ultra-high performance car with seating for five and decent luggage space. The market's recent darling has been the Tesla (TSLA) Model S, which starts at $71,000 and sells for up to $130,000 with equipment.

The Tesla Model is whip-snap fast, has an outstanding instrumentation system and is practically roomy. Dodge, however, is launching an amazing new car that has up to 707 horsepower with an outstanding instrumentation, seats five people and has starting prices from $28,000 to $61,000.

With the 2015 Dodge Challenger, great looks are included at no extra charge.

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Let's start with the design. The 2015 Dodge Challenger attempts to mimic the 1971 model, and the result is stunning. Even though I appreciate beautiful design, I usually evaluate cars based on their inner qualities.

Of all the cars I have ever seen, however, this 2015 Dodge Challenger is the only one I would consider buying based on shockingly superior looks. Here are a few examples:

1. Retro body shape.

This 1971 "heritage edition" is simply in a class of its own in terms of appearance. It brings your mind back to a different era of American history and superiority. Seeing the 2015 Dodge Challenger makes me think of Dirty Harry and Bullitt -- a more classic America when many things were better than today.

2. Colors done right.

Not only is the retro body shape difficult to get right, without looking kooky or as if you're trying too hard. Colors are, too. In this case, Dodge even got green right, a seemingly impossible task in the auto business.

3. Lights like none other.

Companies such as BMW and Audi like to brag about having the world's most advanced car lights. After seeing the 2015 Challenger, you'll realize they have nothing on the Dodge brothers. It would take too much space to describe in detail, but you just have to see both the front and rear lights on the 2015 Challenger.

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As stunning as the exterior of the 2015 Dodge Challenger is, the interior was an even bigger surprise. It's a two-door coupe, but five adults fit. It is naturally difficult to get in and out of the back seat, but the cushion is soft and comfortable. The rear headroom is suitable for people under 5-feet 10-inches tall, and the leg/foot room is tight but doable.

The only thing about the whole car I found to be subpar were the front seats. You sit up a little too high, can't tilt the back of the seat cushion down enough, and the seat is made for an extremely wide person. The shoulder support is also not separately adjustable. It is basically optimized for someone who is 5-9, has a very wide behind and weighs perhaps 300 pounds.

The dashboard and controls are among the very best I have ever experienced in any automobile. They pass the "rental-car test" for ease of use, and the quality of materials, buttons and knobs is the highest imaginable.

Feel the top of the dashboard: It's a sticky black rubber that might almost hold your cellphone because it's so sticky. Feel the "filler" material between the buttons and switches: It's a very rich textured rubberized material. All the infotainment screen operate with extreme ease, absolutely market-leading.

Three more thoughtful details:

1. The center console flips open to the side, facing the driver. Thank heavens someone figured this out!

2. The door has a large cup holder, and so it doesn't get in the way of your two smartphones in the center console's two cup holders.

3. The inside of the door has a padded leather that makes you feel like you are in a rich nightclub in Monaco. Order it in red leather!

All in all, this may be my favorite car interior of all time. Whatever you might have thought of Chrysler Group interiors over the recent decades, toss it out and realize this Dodge has gone from the back of the class to pole position. Audi, Mercedes, BMW and Lexus had better take some notes.

The 2015 Dodge Challenger comes in four major variants:

V6, 305 horsepower: Yields 30 miles per gallon, highway, although I only got 27 MPG in my test. Starts at $27,990.

V8, 375 horsepower: Yields 25 MPG highway. Starts at $32,490.

V8, 485 horsepower: Yields 25 MPG highway. Starts at $39,490.

V8, 707 horsepower: Yields 20 MPG highway. Starts at $60,990.

The gasoline tank is 18.5 gallons, and so your range will vary between 370 miles (at 20 MPG) and 555 miles (at 30 MPG). You can, of course, refuel in as little as approximately five minutes at any of over 100,000 gasoline stations in the U.S. alone.

So here you are, choosing between the Tesla and the 2015 Dodge Challenger. Which one to buy? Both cars give you a range of variants and prices.

Basically, the Dodge is about half the price of the Tesla: Base models start at $28,000 versus $71,000, and the range-topping 707 horsepower Dodge starts at $61,000 versus a fully loaded Tesla at $130,000.

The economist in you will ponder whether you will save enough on gasoline in the Tesla to pay for its twice-as-high purchase price. For the average American who drives 12,000 miles per year, how much will you pay in gasoline in the Dodge?

At 15 MPG average in the 707 horsepower version, you will consume 800 gallon or per year, or $3,200 at $4 per gallon. At 25 MPG average in the 305 horsepower version, you will consume 480 gallon per year, or $1,920 per year.

Depending on your object of comparison, the Tesla will cost anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000 more, using round numbers and perhaps assuming a tax benefit from buying an electric car. If you have an opportunity cost of capital of 5%, that means $1,500 to $3,000 per year in extra opportunity cost from having bought the Tesla.

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So now Tesla's financial advantage is down to somewhere between $420 and $200 per year ($1,920 minus $1,500, or $3,200 minus $3,000). If you stop right there, the Tesla is minimally cheaper to own, per year, compared with the Dodge Challenger.

However, you also have to add the following two costs: Electricity and depreciation. The Dodge doesn't have any electricity cost, but the annual cost for the Tesla will be almost right about $500 (I have done this math in previous articles). At this point, the Tesla is therefore already more expensive than the Dodge.

Then you have arguably the biggest cost of them all: Depreciation. The Tesla is basically twice the price of the Dodge. What's the extra depreciation on the incremental $30,000 or $60,000 spent on the car? It is more than 20%, that's for sure. At a minimum, that adds $6,000 to $12,000 in annual cost to buying the Tesla over the Dodge, at least for the first year of ownership.

One part of the depreciation isn't even directly comparable between the Dodge and the Tesla, and that's Tesla's big battery. It is expected to perform over 10 years, but as with all batteries you are expected to lose capacity as you use the car over time. After 10 years and 120,000 miles, you will probably have lost at least 20%-30% capacity.

Of course, a gasoline engine will not have lost 20%-30% of its capacity after 10 years. A gasoline engine might have lost a percentage or two, but hardly measurable, and with a range up to 555 miles and instant refueling capacity, it doesn't really matter.

After those 10 years, the salvage value of Tesla's battery might be one-third of its estimated new-car cost of $30,000. That means there's $20,000 of value to be written off over a decade. At $2,000 per year, that's as much as gasoline would cost you in the Dodge 305 horsepower version!

As you can see, the Tesla is vastly more expensive to own, over ANY time period, compared with the Dodge Challenger. There is no exact and objective number, because it depends on your assumptions and how many miles you drive per year. I would stipulate that there is almost no scenario where the Tesla costs less than the Dodge, not even close. Depreciation alone takes care of that.

Of course, most people don't buy either of these cars because of cost of ownership. People buy them because of image and performance. In that comparison, I stipulate that the Dodge looks better, has a better interior and has more powerful engines than Tesla. All at half the price.

Tesla's life in the sun was nice while it was lasted. We all enjoy novelties, and new technology in particular.  But now the Dodge brothers are back, and they put an end to this fruit-fly's life. Bye-bye, Tesla.

At the time of publication, the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

TheStreet Ratings team rates TESLA MOTORS INC as a Hold with a ratings score of C-. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:

"We rate TESLA MOTORS INC (TSLA) a HOLD. The primary factors that have impacted our rating are mixed ? some indicating strength, some showing weaknesses, with little evidence to justify the expectation of either a positive or negative performance for this stock relative to most other stocks. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its solid stock price performance, revenue growth and notable return on equity. However, as a counter to these strengths, we also find weaknesses including unimpressive growth in net income, weak operating cash flow and poor profit margins."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • This stock has managed to rise its share value by 66.29% over the past twelve months. Regarding the stock's future course, our hold rating indicates that we do not recommend additional investment in this stock despite its gains in the past year.
  • Despite its growing revenue, the company underperformed as compared with the industry average of 19.5%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues rose by 10.4%. This growth in revenue does not appear to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, displayed by a decline in earnings per share.
  • TESLA MOTORS INC's earnings have gone downhill when comparing its most recently reported quarter with the same quarter a year earlier. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, TESLA MOTORS INC continued to lose money by earning -$0.71 versus -$3.70 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($1.20 versus -$0.71).
  • Net operating cash flow has declined marginally to $60.64 million or 5.36% when compared to the same quarter last year. In addition, when comparing the cash generation rate to the industry average, the firm's growth is significantly lower.
  • The company, on the basis of change in net income from the same quarter one year ago, has significantly underperformed when compared to that of the S&P 500 and the Automobiles industry. The net income has significantly decreased by 542.7% when compared to the same quarter one year ago, falling from $11.25 million to -$49.80 million.

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