I settled for a test ride in the CODA, not a test drive. CODA was taking people for rides at the Santa Monica Alt-Car Expo, but not letting them drive, in contrast to hundreds of potential buyers test-driving the.
Sorry, but CODA did not appear to be worth $44,900 in contrast with the more sexy, more fully appointed Nissan LEAF priced at only $32,780. Both pure battery-are targeting 100-mile ranges. CODA with 33.8 kWh lithium battery pack is likely to have a better real world range than Nissan with 24 kWh battery pack. You can also charge the 2011 CODA twice as fast at 6.6 kW/h, instead of 3.3 kW/h with the 2011 LEAF. With the 2012 LEAF both will have the same charging speed.
Riding in the CODA felt like being in my Civic Hybrid, a nice but an ordinary 4-door 5-seat sedan. OK features, but nothing special. The ride felt like a conventional sedan, but nothing special. The legroom was a little more cramped than in the LEAF and Chevy Volt. With CODA you get an off-the-shelf chassis and assembled drive system; with Nissan you get a car built from the ground-up to be a unique battery-electric, right down to the ECO mode and driver telematics. At least CODA is using respected drive system suppliers such as Borg Warner, UQM electric motors, Energy CS, Delphi DC-DC, and Lear on board charger.
CODA currently has batteries made in China in a joint venture with Lishen Power Battery. The CODA sedan is sub-assembled in Harbin, China, and shipped to the US for final assembly in California. CODA is trying to secure DOE loans for at least $400 million to build a battery and vehicle assembly plant in Columbus, Ohio, for production starting 2014. The company’s pitch is that this could create 2,000 jobs in the U.S., although these might be at the expense of 2,000 Nissan LEAF battery and assembly jobs in Tennessee, or 2,000 Fordand battery jobs in Michigan. Competition will get intense. The good news is that more lithium batteries and electric cars will be built somewhere in the U.S.
VCs and private investors such as former Secretary of Treasury Hank Paulson are making $100 million bet on CODA getting fed funding and having an IPO. Tesla’s market cap of $2 billion has encouraged investors. But without fed money the limited vehicle warrant of 3 years or 36,000 miles might be safe, but customers may have doubts about the company being there for the 8-year or 100,000 mile battery warranty.
Buyers who can afford to pay $45K for an electric car with extra range are more likely to step-up to theat $57,000 and get more range, upgradeability, premium features, and a certain wow factor. If car drivers want extended range, and balk at $45K, then they may go with a plug-in hybrid.
CODA needs to weigh its strategy options. It’s pricing demonstrates that China partners will not help it win the cost battle with companies that make cars by the millions such as Nissan, Ford, and soon Toyota and Honda. The range issue may get CODA a few thousand buyers, if it can deliver much better range than the LEAF,, and other EVs coming to market at savings of $12,000. CODA needs to be more distinctive for consumers, or to deliver custom vehicles for fleets like taxis and emergency responders, to justify the big price premium. There will be multiple winners in the electric car market. The race is on.