GM may lose $9,000 per Bolt EV to advance the industry

It could pay off in the long-term, though.

The concept of a loss leader is nothing new.

Photo by Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Between the cost of development and the general newness of the technology, EVs are still quite expensive. But losing money on cars now could spell greater profits in the long run, and that appears to be the hope of Chevrolet and its new Bolt EV.

General Motors could stand to lose up to $9,000 for every Bolt EV it sells, Bloomberg reports. Part of this is due to US states with zero-emissions mandates, where a certain percentage of cars a company sells must produce, um, zero emissions. That's why certain EVs, like the Fiat 500e and Kia Soul EV, are only sold in certain states. General Motors declined to comment.

In order to ensure these zero-emissions vehicles comprise the percentages required, automakers are willing to let the cars go for a song. Bloomberg notes that Fiat Chrysler lost more than $10,000 on each 500e, due in part to staggeringly low lease rates. Those bargain-basement prices also extend to certain 50-state vehicles like the Nissan Leaf.

The payoff isn't there yet, but it could be soon. As the supporting infrastructure expands and as battery costs fall, the cars will become more affordable and more appealing to wide swaths of buyers. For now, they remain niche vehicles, for owners with a short commute or an overwhelming desire to go green as fast as possible.

It goes beyond affordability. Being one of the first automakers to promote a nationwide EV could very well attract a whole load of younger buyers who want to stay on the technological cutting edge. That could lead to an increased market share that purchases other Chevrolet vehicles, helping the brand make back some of that loss-leader money.

There's also the matter of zero-emissions "credits." The more zero-emissions vehicles sold, the more of these credits automakers receive, which can then be sold to other automakers that are lagging behind the regulations. General Motors purchased the smallest amount over the last year ending in August, and releasing the Bolt EV could turn the tables and give GM enough credits to sell to other automakers, making back some of that money. Tesla made $139 million selling these credits last quarter, since all its cars qualify as zero-emissions vehicles

Electric cars aren't going anywhere, even if the next two US Presidents install Luddite cavemen as the Secretary of Transportation. Selling EVs at a loss now has a good chance to boost GM's cred in the future. At the minimum, it can secure bragging rights by beating Tesla's Model 3 to market.

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