Several automakers have been open about their difficulty making money by selling electric cars, or in some cases they don’t even try to make a profit and instead focus solely on getting the ZEV credits.
Carlos Ghosn, chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, claims that they are ahead of the game when it comes to making money on EVs.
The executive told CNBC today:
“We are probably the most advanced carmaker in terms of costs of electric cars and we have announced already in 2017 that we are probably the only carmaker who’s starting to make money selling electric cars,”
The company just posted a record operating profit of 3.854 billion euros ($4.84 billion) for 2017, but Ghosn didn’t specify how electric cars contributed to those profits, and their electric car sales still represent only a small fraction of their total sales.
Ghosn also said that he is not worried about the increasing cost of raw materials for batteries:
“The increase in the cost of the raw material would be compensated by much better knowhow into how to make batteries more efficiently and how to substitute some of the raw materials going into the batteries,”
The prices of metals like cobalt and lithium have increased significantly over the last few years due to the demand for electric vehicles, but the actual amounts of these materials per battery cell is so small that the impact on the overall price of batteries is still minimal.
Of course, it is important for automakers to make money selling electric cars since it’s the only way they will replace gas-powered cars, but I think it’s impossible to accurately make comparisons between automakers at this stage in the game.
For example, detractors like to use the example of Tesla not being profitable to show that EVs are not financially viable, but Tesla is constantly investing in more infrastructure and production capacity.
The company could likely make money on the Model S and Model X if it would slow down its investment and build fewer service centers, stores, and charging stations. But that’s not a good long-term strategy.
As for established automakers, most of them haven’t invested in volume production of electric vehicles yet, which makes it hard to produce profitable EVs.
Nissan is probably the exception to the rule here and it’s why Ghosn’s comments are credible. But I wouldn’t worry about it being a problem until other automakers start producing non-compliance electric vehicles in volume.