Coda Grasps At Straws to Differentiate Its Electric Sedan

· · 10 years ago

Coda Automotive, the small underdog electric car start-up, is promising to deliver its first vehicles in December. As an unknown entity, the company’s sales and marketing folks are under the gun to find advantages to their product, compared to the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt. It looks like the pressure is getting to Mike Jackson, Coda senior vice president of sales and distribution.

In an interview with AutoWeek posted today, Jackson, the long-time former General Motors marketing executive, calls the Coda sedan “the first affordable all-electric sedan.” Expected to sell just north of $40,000, compared to the Nissan LEAF’s $32,000 price tag (both before tax incentives), at first I couldn’t figure out how that could be. Both are four-door cars, with the overall length of the LEAF and Coda measuring within an inch or so from one another. Then, I realized that he’s calling the Coda EV a “sedan” because it has a trunk, while the LEAF is a hatchback.

Okay, fair enough. That’s a difference, but is the benefit of a “full trunk,” as Jackson says, worth an additional $10,000?

Jackson is on firmer ground when he points to Coda’s active thermal management of batteries. The LEAF’s system is passive—air flows over the batteries via a single fan to either warm or cool the batteries—while Coda’s cabin and batteries share the same heating and cooling system.

That could be a key advantage for ensuring more consistent range, especially in very hot or cold conditions and for maximizing battery life. And yet, Coda’s lithium iron phosphate cells, manufactured in China, are much less proven than the LEAF’s lithium polymer packs, developed in partnership with powerhouse NEC. It’s interesting to note that Coda’s 33.8 kWh pack is much larger than the LEAF’s 24 kWh—with Coda saying its range is 120 miles compared to the LEAF's 100-mile range. Again, is the extra 20 miles of range (on a good day) worth the gamble of buying from an unproven start-up versus Nissan?

Another Coda advantage is recharge times, because its on-board charger is 6.6 kilowatts, while the LEAF’s charger is half that at 3.3 kilowatts. That could mean a full charge of the Coda in 2 to 6 hours versus the LEAF’s 4 to 8 hours. Of course, the Chevy Volt with its smaller 16 kWh pack (which only dips to 8 kWh) has them both beat in terms of full-recharge. The faster charger could make a big difference in a pinch, but it still seems like a fairly insignificant metric because the most common pattern is overnight charging usually not started from full depletion. (I’m sure the experienced EV drivers on the site will weigh in. Guys?)

Jackson didn’t mention that the top speed on the Coda is limited to 80 mph, while the LEAF is 90 mph, and Volt can motor to 100 mph.

Jackson is technically right on all accounts. Coda has a trunk, active thermal battery management, and a faster charger. Don't get me wrong. I want all the EV start-ups to succeed, thrive, and spawn more electric driving. But Coda’s dressed-down looks and pushed-up price—as well as its lack of an established track record, unusual distribution network, and service system—makes you wonder who is going to choose the Coda over EVs from more established automakers.

Anybody waiting out for a Coda electric sedan over a LEAF or Volt?

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