How Much Does it Cost to Build a Car?

Last Updated on December 21, 2023
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Whether you dream of creating your own custom vehicle or are curious about what major automakers spend, learning how much it costs to build a car from scratch offers a great insider perspective. This guide breaks down the typical expenses involved in passenger car production to demystify the billions spent designing, engineering and assembling new models every year.

How Much Does it Cost to Build a Car?

The average cost automakers are charged to build a new car is $15,000 to $30,000. Mass-market vehicles like a Toyota Camry or Chevy Malibu cost around $15,000 to construct. Luxury sedans and sports cars can exceed $30,000 given higher-grade components and performance elements.

Brand Model Retail Price Range Estimated Manufacturing Cost per Car
Toyota Corolla $20,000 – $25,000 $12,000 – $15,000
Hyundai Elantra $19,000 – $24,000 $11,500 – $14,500
Honda Accord $25,000 – $36,000 $15,000 – $22,000
Ford Mustang $27,000 – $50,000 $16,000 – $30,000
Mercedes-Benz E-Class $54,000 – $73,000 $32,000 – $44,000
BMW 5 Series $54,000 – $76,000 $32,000 – $45,000

What Influences Cost to Make a Car?

Four major factors affect budgets when constructing new cars:

  • Research & Design – Developing brands and models is expensive upfront.
  • Components – Quality parts and high-tech features ramp up fixed costs.
  • Labor – Hourly wages for factory workers accumulate with thousands of labor hours.
  • Manufacturing – Facility construction and tooling to mass produce add huge overhead.

Now let’s explore what goes into the major expenses when automakers build new vehicles from the ground up.

Research & Design Costs

Before automakers can start construction on a new model, immense upfront investment goes into research and design over several years. This includes:

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Market Research: Surveying consumer preferences and trends to identify demand opportunities costs big bucks. Think focus groups, analytics, and more.

Concept Design: Drafting the initial vehicle ideas through sketches, renderings, and clay models involves extensive hourly labor.

Prototyping: Constructing multiple test vehicles with custom parts and trial tooling racks up raw materials and building expenses.

Testing & Validation: Putting prototypes through rigorous real-world testing, safety validation, and test driving to optimize design exacts more R&D costs.

In total, a manufacturer can spend $1 billion or more just on R&D per model prior to full-scale production. Thus, the fixed costs invested upfront per vehicle produced down the road are significant.

Component Costs

Today’s cars are made of 30,000 parts on average. And costs to manufacture a car stack up quickly… High-grade steel, aluminum, and composites for structural components impact budgets. Sophisticated engines and transmissions with precision machining come with higher expenses. Electronics and embedded systems development adds more to material costs.

Tallying several thousand dollars per vehicle spent on components alone, this constitutes one of the largest variable costs that factor into overall build pricing. By investing in higher-quality parts and advanced technologies, luxury automakers incur component costs exceeding economy car manufacturers.

Labor Costs

Despite increased factory automation and robotics, human workforce hours still dominate vehicle production budgets. Thousands of hourly plant workers assemble, weld, paint, and install interiors to construct each automobile.

With average hourly wages of $20+ for automotive manufacturing pros, the labor hours logged accumulate major costs. Even more spending occurs for specialty technicians who hand-fit and customize high-end sports cars with precision detailing.

Manufacturing Facility Costs

Build a Car ProcessBefore the first car is built, automakers invest heavily in manufacturing infrastructure from plants to machinery. Constructing and equipping an assembly facility like the one Porsche has in North America costs upwards of $1 billion. This massive overhead then gets distributed across production output over many years.

There are also costs associated with ordering metal stamping tools and injection molds for making the thousands of unique plastic, rubber, and glass parts needed for each model. These durable tools rack up millions in expenses depending on complexity and production volumes.

Additional Cost Considerations

Here are a few other expenses tied to making a car not yet highlighted:

Logistics: Transporting wide-ranging components to facilities plus shipping finished vehicles adds up.

Compliance: Adhering to regulatory safety and emissions requirements necessitates investments too like gas guzzler taxes.

Marketing: Advertising and launching new models to create buyer buzz equals big marketing dollars.

Strategies for Reducing Build Costs

For new automakers on a budget or existing brands striving for efficiency, here are ways to pare down production costs:

Leverage Platform Sharing: Brands distribute R&D and tooling across model variants sharing the same platform.

Utilize Fewer Components: They simplify architecture and remove unnecessary parts where possible.

Outsource Systems: They also subcontract to supply specialty items like electronics and optics cost-effectively.

Optimize Processes: They might also analyze factory workflows and balance automation to boost productivity.

Select Affordable Materials: Some companies also use higher-strength steels and standard plastics over carbon fiber and magnesium without sacrificing safety.

Consider Localized Production: They also manufacture regionally with markets to save import expenses.

The Takeaway

Developing and manufacturing new vehicles requires multi-billion dollar investments upfront by automakers before sales begin. But the sunk costs of construction ultimately get recouped over years of purchases by car buyers looking for their dream ride.

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