The cars we loved.
A few weeks ago, I covered a range of glamours electric cars. I forgot to mention the one that sits squarely in the middle – so much so that very few may have even heard of the CODA Sedan. The less than glamours side of the electric car market features a host of products based on or looking like mainstream cars. The CODA Sedan takes that concept to the extreme. While the Ford Focus Electric and Honda Fit EV are good examples of modern looking EV’s that look and work much like their gasoline counterparts, the CODA hides its smarts under the skin of a nearly decade old design. The ideal that an electric car must look strange is fast becoming an ideal of the past. Mainstreaming is the goal and for CODA, that seems to mean that your product can look like a 10-year-old used car.
To that end the folks over at CODA have made an electric car that at best blends in with traffic. The very word coda in music referrs to the end or a piece, or in the CODA sedan’s case its realitive silence on the road. Despite being based in car centric California, CODA looked to China and found a 2004 Mitsubishi based design that was originally styled by Pinninfarina in another life. CODA made modifications to the design to accommodate its new mission as an electric car, making it generic looking in the process. That’s unfortunate, because the CODA sedan offers a considerable amount of technology for $38,000 (before federal discount is applied) and could easily be overlooked because of its dowdy appearance. Any number of Southern California design firms could have come up with something more interesting than an old Mercury Tracer copy. Part of the CODA design legacy comes out of it being a global project with parts coming from Europe, China and America.
When it debuted at the 2009 LA Auto Show, CODA billed itself as an American car company made from parts sourced from around the world. CODA has built up some formidable partnerships that include powerhouses like GE, Samsung, Motorola and Borg Warner among others. Most notably some assembly is done in China, where the CODA’s power cells are also sourced. The Chinese factor was problematic to the degree of delaying production, but when issues were ironed out, the CODA sedan went on limited sale in trendy spots around LA in 2012.
For the cost of a stripped down BMW 328i, the CODA offers a simple, but well-designed interior with leather seats and a limited range of entertainment options. Rack and pinion steering with electric power assists rounds out all the features that give the CODA the feel of a regular car. In a concession to sport, black 17 inch wheels can be added, but with only 134 hp and a 85 mph top speed, the front wheel drive CODA won’t be confused for a sports sedan. The fully independent McPherson strut suspension insures a compliant ride on the worst roads and a certain degree of handling prowess. It’s in these regular car parts where the CODA Sedan has cut corners, as the battery and charging mechanisms are world-class by any standard.
For starters the CODA is 50% more powerful than the competitors like the Nissan Leaf. It also charges faster than most of the competition. The high recharge rate of 6.6-kw is made possible by an active thermal management system that keeps the batteries temperature constant under all-weather conditions. The 1,000 lb battery pack sits underneath the cabin and uses a system of recycling air to maintain temperature. Still, the conveniences of owing the CODA extend to the charger than can be plugged in to any regular household outlet. An optional 220 volt charging unit made by GE speeds up the charging process to 6 hours vs the standard household wattage of 36-40 hours. That’s Telsa Model S speed charging territory. The $1,200 option works similarly to the charging stations at CODA dealerships in Southern California. In addition to home and dealer options, public charging stations offer a third option for alleviating any range anxiety when driving around the LA, San Diego or San Francisco areas.
Ironically a car so plain-looking did well in the swank environs of Southern California. The limited sales were encouraging. The charging hardware of the base Coda allowed it to run for 88 miles on a single charge. That was more than the Leaf or Focus, but less than far more expensive rivals like the Fisker Karma. The CODA Sedan is not aiming for the Fisker market, but offers a more powerful battery with a range up to 125 miles on a single charge.
The CODA is slowly making its way to mainstream distribution, despite still being sold mostly in California. The media have been positive, but the startup is being overshadowed by electric products from mainstream manufacturers. Only 100 cars have been sold since March 2012. CODA has a dealer network of about 30 and hopes to expand that number to 50. There were over 1,000 orders as of March of 2012. Even with that kind of slow but steady growth, its likely that most Americans will never see a CODA sedan in person anytime soon. The CODA Sedan will be sold in China soon and will likely sell more units there than Stateside. If the company is serious about increasing domestic sales, it might consider a facelift to give a mechanically interesting car more external visual appeal. LED lights, 17 inch rims and a Apple friendly interior might be enough to win over some, but the dowdy exterior could be a deal killer. Either way Pininninfarna deserves the opportunity to redeem itself.