Chevy Bolt EV costs $28,700 to build, Tesla Model 3 a bit higher: analysis

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2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV pre-production vehicles at Orion Township Assembly Plant, March 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV pre-production vehicles at Orion Township Assembly Plant, March 2016

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The costs and prices of electric cars are endlessly debated, not only among owners and advocates but within the industry itself.

The cost per kilowatt-hour of electric-car batteries is closely held, with a few notable exceptions.

One of those was the statement by GM product chief Mark Reuss that the company pays $145 per kilowatt-hour for the lithium-ion cells in the Chevrolet Bolt EV.

DON'T MISS: This family has 2 Chevy Bolt EV electric cars, uses no gas

The Bolt EV has a 60-kwh battery pack, which adds another 20 percent to 40 percent on top of the cost of those cells.

Now we have an estimate of the company's production costs for an entire 2017 Chevy Bolt EV, from a report issued by the investment firm UBS.

It's not limited to the Bolt EV, either; the company also projects what it thinks a Tesla Model 3 will cost to manufacture.

Image from 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric-car ad by Ourisman Chevrolet, Rockville, Maryland

Image from 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric-car ad by Ourisman Chevrolet, Rockville, Maryland

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It's worth reading the entire report to understand the company's methods and reasoning.

The bottom line, however, is that UBS has calculated the production and manufacturing cost of a Chevrolet Bolt EV at $28,700.

The base price of a 2017 Bolt EV, of course, starts at $37,500, with a well-equipped top-of-the-line model costing $43,000 or more.

READ THIS: 2017 Chevy Bolt EV electric car: new owner's first impressions

At those prices, given some profit margin required for the franchised Chevrolet dealer who sells the car, most analysts suggest GM is losing money on each Bolt EV it sells.

UBS suggests that if it sells 30,000 Bolt EVs, GM loses $7,400 per car.

That's not unusual for the first generation of an advanced-technology car.

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

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Toyota is widely assumed to have lost money on the entire first generation of its Prius hybrid from 1997 through 2003, and only started to break even sometime during the second generation from 2004 through 2009.

As for the Tesla Model 3, we know only that the Silicon Valley electric-car maker has said its price will start at $35,000. Comprehensive pricing, feature, and option information remains to be released.

UBS suggests that Tesla may pay 20 percent less per kwh for a 60-kwh battery in the base Model 3, a conservative assumption, and pegs the company's all-in battery-pack cost at $165 per kwh (against its assumption of $205 per kwh for the Bolt EV).

CHECK OUT: Another Chevy Bolt EV electric-car owner weighs in on pros and cons

That assumption leads to a manufacturing cost for a base Model 3 would be $29,878, roughly $1,200 more than a Bolt EV.

The company suggests that Tesla will lose $2,830 on that base Model 3—but, if buyers spec those cars with enough options to bring the transaction price to $42,000, the company could break even.

Tesla has already said that Model 3 orders will be prioritized to existing Tesla owners, California residents, and the highest-spec models.

Tesla factory, Fremont, California

Tesla factory, Fremont, California

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This report is only a single estimate, but it should provide for lively discussion in the industry and among electric-car advocates.

With cost and price estimates still being debated, soon the focus will shift to when Tesla can start building Model 3 cars and how quickly it can ramp up that production.

The company has said it will deliver 200,000 cars this year and 500,000 next year. Its last statement on Model 3 reservations was last summer, when it pegged the number at 365,000.

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