Tesla Model 3: what battery cost/kWh is needed for vehicle profitability?

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As the Tesla Model 3 nears production and the first deliveries in July, the big question investors are asking is “Will Model 3 sink the company or take it to new heights?” The latest episode of Teslanomics reverse engineers new data around vehicle production costs and per kilowatt-hour battery costs, in an attempt to understand if and when Model 3 will be profitable.

Tesla shared in the 2017 Q1 investor call that it had improved margins on its vehicles to 27%. While the company disrupts not only the automotive industry but the energy storage and energy production industries, analysts have been scattershot in their estimations of Tesla’s current and future valuation.

Teslanomics took cost/kWh data from an anonymous source and combined it with assumptions for Model 3 battery size, to find the approximate cost/kWh required before Model 3 can be profitable. First, host Ben Sullins took the industry average that the Total Produced Cost of the vehicle should be around 40% of the sale price of the car. Electric cars are a bit different as batteries typically make up 50% of the total production cost of the vehicle.

Ben then created a model that calculates the % of the overall vehicle price that the battery represents. Based on discussions taking place across forums, it’s widely speculated that Model 3 will be offered with two different battery pack sizes – a 55 kWh and 70 kWh battery pack at a vehicle price of $35,000 and $42,000, respectively. Based on those assumptions, Ben was able to reduce the per kilowatt-hour battery cost until the total produced cost of the vehicle reached approximately 50%.

While this analysis is not water tight, nor was it intended to be, it does add a valuable data point to show that Model 3 can be profitable, especially once Tesla’s Gigafactory is in full production and battery costs reach $130 per kWh and below. Tesla is expected to announce details for Gigafactory 3, 4 and 5 by the end of this year.

Tesla Model 3: what battery cost/kWh is needed for vehicle profitability?
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