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Why Coda’s Frumpy, Expensive EV Can Compete

Every major car company is releasing an electric car soon. And then there is the little startup Coda. But during a visit to their new HQ, the folks behind Coda said they have the formula to take down Detroit.

Today’s electric vehicles are either super-sexy–think the Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma–or somehow different-looking than your average car, like the aerodynamic Nissan Leaf. But for most people, EVs are alien enough without having to deal with major design differences. Familiarity breeds comfort, and without comfort, EVs will never take off. That’s the game plan behind the 2012 Coda sedan. It’s frumpy, expensive (starting at $39,900 before rebates compared to the $35,200 Nissan Leaf), and doesn’t have a big name attached to it. But it’s familiar, reliable, and it might just be a hit when it’s released early next year.

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Last week, we attended the opening of Coda’s new global headquarters in Los Angeles–a sprawling, 100,000 square foot space that currently houses 220 technicians, engineers and corporate staff (and a fleet of Coda sedans). It’s the kind of place that’s built for growth.

While there are a number of major automakers poised to release EVs in the coming years, Coda’s sedan only has one major competitor currently on the market: the Nissan Leaf. So why would someone buy a Coda EV instead of the Leaf? “The biggest impediment to volume growth of EVs has always been range. Historically, people have been concerned about EVs because I want to get in the car and drive from Santa Monica to Malibu, and the worry is, Can I get home?,” explains Coda CEO Phil Murtaugh. “We’ve been able to overcome that. We have a 50% larger battery pack than anyone else in the EV space.”

That 36 kilowatt-hour lithium iron phosphate battery gives the five-passenger Coda sedan a maximum range of 150 miles. According to Murtaugh, the best that any competitor can do is 100 miles (the Leaf has an EPA-certified range of 73 miles, while the Coda sedan may get a 110 mile range certification from the agency).

Murtaugh also emphasizes the Coda sedan’s thermal management and battery pack management systems. These systems should allow the sedan to deliver a dependable range compared to the Leaf. “The only other EV out there does not have thermal management. When a temperature drops to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, if you don’t have thermal management, you lose a significant amount of range,” says Murtaugh. Suffice it to say, a lot of the country needs to drive when it gets below 40.

The Coda sedan also has a 6.6-kilowatt on-board charger, compared to the 3.3-watt charger used by other manufacturers. That translates to faster charging times.

It’s hard to say whether all of this is enough to make the Coda sedan a top seller. But Murtaugh is confident, and he believes that Coda can sell 10,000 EVs in the first year. “We recognize that we’re not a company that has been in the auto business for 100 years. That’s actually a benefit. We are a company that’s in the EV business, and we’ve got the best EV propulsion system in the industry.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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