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.

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