AltCar 2009: Coda Sedan test ride; wish we could drive the $30,000 (or so) electric vehicle
Back in August, members of the Diamond Bar Electric Vehicle Association were treated to rides in t he Coda all-electric sedan with Coda Automotive CEO Kevin Czinger at the wheel. This past weekend, AutoblogGreen was given the same opportunity during the AltCar Expo at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Our 15 minutes in the passenger seat were a real tease – this is a standard-looking EV with more punch than a mid-size-sedan deserves (it felt more feisty than its 0-60 speed of just under 11 seconds sounds), and we can't wait for the chance to drive it for ourselves.
A quick refresher on what the Coda Sedan will offer: a top speed of 80 mph, seating for four/five, a 100- to 120- mile range and a sales price of under $30,000 in California (after state and federal rebates). We didn't sit in the back seat, but should have remembered to do so since we've heard a few reports that it's a tight fit. We did, however, make the most of our time sitting shotgun – after getting the car out of the clever "Break Glass In Emergency" stand it was in most of the weekend – feeling the zero-emission power and learning about where Coda is today with their first vehicle offering. Read all about it after the jump.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sebastian Blanco / Weblogs, Inc.
Some people say the Coda EV is ugly. We just think it's bland, and that it looks a lot better in person than it does in pictures. We agree with those who don't want every electric car to look like an iMiEV or a Peapod. We like the look of those rides – especially the iMiEV – but don't think a car's powertain needs to define its look. Czinger thinks that the car's looks won't really matter, not when the highway-speed EV will be available for under $30k. "This car may not be the most futuristic looking on the outside, but it's the most revolutionary [electric vehicle] by far," he said. Why? Because of the inexpensive batteries.
Coda, which began as a project of neighborhood electric vehicle producer Miles Automotive, is taking a completely different approach to mainstreaming EVs than Tesla Motors. Tesla started at the top end with the $100k Roadster, which is the car that got the world excited about EVs. Up next for Tesla will be the Model S for $40k or $50k. Only after that we hope to see the Tesla Motors car that is rumored to be priced at or around $30,000. Coda is going to for mass adoption from the get go, and Czinger said that the most important thing about the sedan is that Coda Automotive has created its own cell-up automotive-grade battery system design. The company did all of the battery and thermal management and owns or co-owns all of the IP. Coda Automotive also co-owns the manufacturing process with the "premiere Chinese state-owned lithium battery manufacturer" Tianjin Lishen Battery Joint-Stock Co., Ltd. Coda will use Lischen's million-sq.ft. battery manufacturing facility in China to make the packs. Coda wanted to reproduce this plant in the U.S., but did not get any money from the $2.4 billion in Recovery Act battery grants that were awarded in August.
"All of the companies that got loans were located in the Midwest," Czinger said. "We now, though, are going to reapply to replicate that battery facility that we have in China here in California. Hopefully, we will get support given that we actually are the first company that – certainly the first American company, but I believe the first company – that has a series production design lithium ion battery system that is automotive grade.
"That's a pretty big deal. The key to this whole thing is the price performance of the battery system. What is absolutely revolutionary is that if you have a car that, with subsidies, can go to the consumer in the $20s, then consumer demand is going to drive improvements in price and performance, and that tells you what the future is going to be for electric cars."
Czinger criticized the Leaf for costing too much – and for having a shorter range than the Coda EV – and said that Nissan's EV will not create a revolution. "[The Coda's] price performance level allows you to kick-start the adoption of all-electric vehicles." Czinger believes that since the Coda will have lower maintenance and fuel costs than a comparable gas vehicle, the sedan should offer savings of over $10,000 over five years.
"This car has the same value as a car that sells in the teens, but it's totally zero-emission," he said. "That, to me is a revolution."
Riding in the Coda Sedan only feels a little bit revolutionary. The vehicle's 3,500 lbs. get around quickly, especially accelerating from a full stop. Sadly, we never got to go over 40 mph and so couldn't get a feel for how the car performs on the highway. We expect it to work just fine, but can't wait to test it out for ourselves. Accelerations and decelerations all felt smooth, thanks to the Borg Warner's new single-speed eGearDrive transmission. The whine of the electric motor was noticeable from the cabin – and sort of loud when Czinger really stepped on the pedal – but it wasn't an annoying sound and we imagine that a more complete sound dampening system will be in place before the car goes on sale next year.
Speaking of that transmission, Czinger said that even though the car is made in China, 35 percent of the car, by cost of materials, is made in the U.S. The sedan uses UQM motors, the Borg Warner transmission, a DC/DC converter from Delphi and Leer makes the 6.6 kW charger. All of these are U.S.-sourced parts. "It might be the most American all-electric vehicle today, period," Czinger said.
Then he said something interesting. If Coda manages to build the California battery plant and then can make the batteries in California, the sedan would be made of 80 percent parts manufactured in the U.S., by cost. Grabbing the nearest envelope to do math on the back of, we think he's saying that the 34 kWh pack makes up about 45 percent the cost of the car, right?
While supplier contracts have been locked in, there has been a series production design freeze, and hard tooling has been ordered, the production model will differ slightly from the car we were able to spend fifteen short minutes in. The front end will get a horizontal line that will help with low-speed crashes. On the inside, the dash and instrument cluster will be changed, and the gear selector will be a rotary shifter instead of the gearstick in the current prototype. Instead of the unimpressive vinyl we sat on, the company is considering some sort of eco-fabric (made from recycled bottles, for example) for the interior. The navigation/touch screen will also be a new design. We also expect the icon on the lever that opens the recharging panel to be changed.
Czinger said that full telematics in the car will allow you to do online diagnostics 24/7 and that he expects a five-star crash rating from NCAP. Coda has done lots of crash testing already with help from the "A Team" of the automotive industry to guide the start-up company through the process.
All of this means that Coda is sticking to its timeline: fleet tests late next summer and delivery of the first cars to individuals and fleets in late 2010. Coda Automotive hopes to sell 2,000 units in the first year and 20,000 in the second. If the company can meet the targets that Czinger laid out during out first test ride, those aren't outrageous goals.
NOTE: Corrected some of the stats (top speed, 0-60 time and range).
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