Coda Encounters Difficulties After Launching Its Electric Sedan

By · July 05, 2012

Coda EV

In my review of the Coda electric sedan in last Sunday’s New York Times, I applauded the car for its ability to reliably deliver 100 miles of range on a charge, but criticized the EV for its shortcomings. It was a tricky balance to strike, because the concept that inspired the company—to offer an affordable EV with decent range—is laudable. There are talented dedicated people working at Coda, and I want every company trying to further the mission of electric cars to succeed. But at the end of the day, the car’s lack of style, amenities and ride quality, call into question why a potential EV buyer would go with Coda rather than other more capable electric cars on sale.

Coda’s CEO Phil Murtaugh acknowledged the car’s problems when he told me, “We did not start with a Mercedes Benz S Class. We will probably never reach that level of precision on this vehicle.”

In the New York Times article, I mostly focused on problems that average non-EV drivers would readily understand, like the high-pitched whine from the motor that Bob Ostertag—a guy ready to plunk money down to drive off with a Coda—described as the sound a dentist drill makes. Bob heard the sound when he borrowed a Coda from U.C. Davis, where he teaches. When he complained to Coda about the sound, they said it was fixed in the production version. However, despite his best efforts over about six weeks, the Coda dealership in Silicon Valley has not been able to give him a test drive in a production model. Months after Coda officially went on sale, there are no Coda models to test drive or buy, according to Bob.

Murtaugh also acknowledged the problem. “You’re welcome to call dealers and they will tell you they are not happy with availability,” he said. When asked about how many Codas have been sold so far, Murtaugh declined to answer. “We purposely don’t publish sales results,” he said.

Maybe this is inside baseball, but it illustrates how the noble idea of small company making and selling affordable EVs can come into conflict with the harsh realities of actually making and selling those vehicles.

In a similar fashion, the idea of Coda creating a great battery management system can face unintended issues. I applaud Coda’s work on using an active air-cooled BMS to make sure the car maintains good range during hot and cold weather. But after several charging events—during my week with the car—my Blink EVSE indicated 37 kilowatt-hours of electricity applied to a 31-kWh battery. Coda engineers would need more info to pinpoint exactly where the losses are coming from—perhaps my Blink charger is not giving an accurate reading—but I can’t help but wonder if the car computer’s monitoring of the battery, even after fully charged, is the reason why about 20 percent more electricity than expected is being pulled from my house to charge the battery pack.

Other nitpicks regarding charging include the location of the inlet above the back left wheel—a bit awkward when pulling into my car port and many public charging stations. Also, there’s no indicator light outside the car to indicate that the car is indeed accepting juice. (For a more complete rundown, see the New York Times review.)

Hopefully, Coda will find its share of customers willing to overlook the shortcomings of its first model year, while it improves the vehicle or perhaps brings another one to market. Murtaugh would not say if Coda has plans for future cars. But he did say that, “Coda is more than a car company.” Coda sells its own branded vehicles, as well as electric propulsion systems and energy storage systems for residential, commercial and large-scale utilities.

If Coda can derive revenue from those other lines of business, maybe it will buy time to improve its sedan, reduce its purchase price, or ideally do both at the same time. “We just took our first step,” said Murtaugh. “The Coda sedan is on sale.” That’s a major accomplishment. No doubt about it. But based on everything I experienced during a week with the car, and heard during multiple interviews with executives and engineers, the hard work is just beginning for Coda.

Comments

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

The sales to date are 9 vehicles, with a 100% failure rate. The intent is good, but the flaws with chinese manufacturing are insurmountable. The company is taking loans to pay payroll, with the intent to hold until the company gets approval to go public. The real tragedy is that the vendoes havent been paid this year, and the company is riding on the coat tails of many small business owners to keep going. It's exectutive team are rolling in high payrolls, and it's all based on something designed to dissolve once the compnay goes public.

· Rick Curtis (not verified) · 2 years ago

Brad, We have a good selection of cars here in stock ready for delivery. Bob was here a couple of months ago and did take a test drive with one of our EV Advisors. We have been providing daily test drives and delivering cars since late March just for the record. Thanks, Rick Curtis at Coda Silicon Valley

· · 2 years ago

Brad,
That 20% discrepancy could represent the charging losses. While we all assume that battery charging in an EV should be greater than 90% efficient, it is conceivable that Coda has set their charging system to err on the side of battery preservation, not on efficiency in this early stage. I would think that it would be reasonable for them to run the cooling system a lot more than necessary or perhaps do some cell leveling more often than necessary at least until they've been able to fully characterize their batteries under real-world conditions for a few years.
I don't have any inside information on what is happening but, I wouldn't worry about a 10% inconsistency with expectations this early in the game.
I also don't know the environmental conditions under which you observed a 20% difference between supply power and battery usage. I could actually believe that in hot weather, even a well-designed battery should waste a little energy cooling the pack, even if it means sacrificing a little efficiency. That extra $0.70 of electricity when fully charging the pack on particularly hot days to save a battery worth nearly $10,000 sounds like a good tradeoff to me.

· · 2 years ago

@Rick - Thanks for clarification. A few questions that would really help: How many models do you have for test driving? How many cars have you sold since March? Are those sales being replenished with new models coming into the store? Do you have a waiting list? How long would somebody need to wait to get a car, if they want one right now.

(Sorry more than a few questions. Just trying to get info out there so interested consumers can know what to expect.)

@ex-EV - Good points. Although it was nice and cool here in Bay Area. For owners in hot weather, it makes a ton of sense. But perhaps by the Bay, where it never gets too hot or cold, not so much.

· · 2 years ago

I wouldn't mind hearing - given the recent concerns of Nissan Leaf batteries prematurely deteriorating in hot climates - a bit more about this "inefficient" charging that is gentler on the batteries.

I assume, first of all that the charging unit on the BYD allows no greater current flow than 6.6kWh. Correct? Brad's article also notes that the BYD uses an "active air-cooled BMS," which, I assume, means an air cooled battery pack (as oppose to a liquid cooled pack.) Is this significantly different than the battery air cooling found on the Leaf?

In terms of charging, is there some sort "filter" (possibly a poor word choice) that is using up more electricity than the battery holds. Or am I reading the "37 kilowatt-hours of electricity applied to a 31-kWh battery" statement incorrectly?

If it is possible to allow charging software to "filter" the electricity in order to purposely cut down on charging efficiency (possibly making a more forgiving environment for the batteries in hot weather as a result,) wouldn't it be wise for manufacturers to tailor these parameters for vehicles that will sold be sold in certain climates . . . if not adjustable by the end-user/owner themselves, then by technicians at the dealership?

· · 2 years ago

Bevs are a financial challenge not solve actually. I said many time to do like the volt and include a gasoline range extender, is it clear now ? Cars won't do the job with just a battery small or big.

· Rick Curtis (not verified) · 2 years ago

@Rick-Brad, at Coda Silicon Valley we have 14 cars here available to test drive today. You can see the inventory 24/7 at www.codasv.com. We have sold a bunch of Coda's but not enough to brag about at this time.

We are getting a good flow of cars now and the proximity of the Benicia plant gives us a big advantage for quick delivery.
.
We do have a waiting list and are working to fill it with the particular color and equipment requirements of the customers. We do have a dozen cars on the ground that we can deliver today.

There are many excellent cars in this segment like the Leaf, i-MiEV, Fit EV, Focus EV and even the very popular ActiveE that we have a true range advantage over. The MPGe data is very confusing to most everyone, but the actual range has almost nothing to do with this estimate.

· Bill Howland (not verified) · 2 years ago

That complaint about efficiency seems unfounded, at least compared to my Tesla Roadster. Charging it at a 30 ampere rate (which turns out is quite a bit more efficient than at the maximum 70 ampere rate) still results in about 75 kilowatt-hours taken from the power line, to get 53 kilowatt-hours in the battery. The 70 ampere rate is quite a bit lower in efficiency than even that...
Where are the missing 22 kilowatt-hours? They basically go to heating the garage, in that the air-conditioning is running to liquid cool the batteries, which are generating heat due to ohmic losses. The 'P.E.M' or power electronics module, also is somewhat lossey and generates more heat which requires another big fan to cool. More 'parasitic' (the latest catch phrase) losses.
And during cold weather a 2-2.5kilowat heater (sorry I can't be more precise as to the exact size since its unspecified) has to HEAT the battery before it will take ANY charge.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Did you also hear about their layoffs? They are keeping it small so they don't have to announce, but they are trimming people.

· Mike @ CODA Silicon Valley (not verified) · 2 years ago

Brad,

I appreciate your enthusiasm and coverage on the EV scene.

I'd like to make a few comments & observations on the Times article:

1) CODA does have keyless entry; you may not have noticed but the key you used to start the car has the remote opener and trunk release all-in-one on the key fob.

2) you mentioned the car has a number of cigarette lighters, when it actually has NONE, and no ash trays. It does however, have 2 ports where one can plug in a phone charger for instance.

3) The car must have been in 'turtle mode' with a well depleted battery when you reported 0-60 time of 19 seconds, which is close to twice as slow as what the car will actually do.

Lastly you mentioned that CODA has no ECO mode or similar setting as other popular EV's do, which is correct.
CODA's regenerative braking requires no such switching to a separate mode or setting, since it's 'regen' braking is kind of intuitive. Any time you come off the accelerator at practically any speed.

Having test driven dozens of people who own other EVs, many of them ( mostly Nissan owners) have commented how much they love the way CODA's regen works, feels, and responds far better than the car they own.

Keep up the good work!

· Anonymous (not verified) · 2 years ago

Hi Brad,
I've owned a Coda for almost four months now and while I agree we some of your assessments I have to say that overall, I'm happy with the design and functionality of my Coda. I've been getting about 90-95 miles per charge and that works very well for my needs.
I do find the "high-pitched whine" a bit disconncerting but I've learned to tune it out. I like the ride, the handling, the interior appointments. I just couldn't stand the exterior design of the LEAF. I'm sure it's a great car but it wasn't for me.

I'm happy to have a choice and I hope by being an early adopter, I will pave the way for the EV's future.

Hopefully a year or two from now, everyone who wants an EV will have their choice of fantastic cars.

· · 2 years ago

I think it’s a nice start for coda. It’s not a bad try with their first hybrid. They just need to cope up with the brand new auto parts that their competitors are bringing up for their models. I think they need to update their Blink charger so that it would be more accurate to improve to overall performance of their hybrid.

· · 1 year ago

Coda needs to upgrade the style of the car first, then focus on the other upgrades.

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