Posts Tagged ‘Electric Cars’

CODA Automotive, Inc. is a Santa Monica-based start-up company that has the lofty goal of putting an “electric car in every garage in the world.” While the eventual electrification of the automobile is inevitable, it’s going to be a while before that happens – probably at least a few decades. To get there, we’ll need a global shift in personal transportation thinking as well as vast improvements to the electrical grids and charging infrastructure.

The CODA 1.0 Sedan at the Westfield Century City shopping mall

The future of the electric car depends on battery technology. Currently, batteries (1) are too expensive, (2) weigh too much (weight is the enemy to efficiency), (3) lack sufficient energy storage capacity for long-range driving and (4) don’t recharge as fast as our fast-paced lifestyles demand.

You probably haven’t heard of CODA unless you’re an automotive tech geek or you’ve been to the Westfield Century City shopping mall near the AMC Cinemas and stumbled upon the CODA Experience Center, the company’s first, very slick showroom stocked with a see-through chassis and well-groomed, uniformly-dressed, ever-helpful 20-somethings called “Gurus” on their business cards.

The CODA chassis and battery

CODA thinks its proprietary battery has solved most of the common complaints about an electric vehicle. The CODA 1.0 Sedan (yeah, that’s really its name) claims a 150 mile range — much better than the claimed 100 miles for the Nissan Leaf and double or triple the EV-only range of the Chevy Volt.

For CODA’s large capacity 36 kWh 728 cell 330V battery, engineers chose Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) chemistry rather than the more conventional lithium ion (L-i) chemistry used for batteries in the Leaf (24 kWh), the Volt (16 kWh), the $120k Tesla Roadster (56 kWh) and the Plug-In Prius (4.4 kWh).  CODA believes its battery pack is more robust, longer-lasting and safer. Manufactured in China without need for rare earth elements or cobalt, it provides greater range for less money.

The CODA’s battery also charges faster than its competitors primarily due to an on-board 6.6 kW/240 VAC charger. By comparison, the Leaf and Volt both have 3.3 kW chargers. The CODA can absorb enough juice in 2 hours to travel 40 miles – more than most people need for a day of driving. A complete charge takes only 6 hours.

The CODA's on-board charge consists of two 3.3 kW 240VAC chargers. Double the competition.

Of course, this assumes you plug the car into a 240 volt, level 2 charger at home or at a public charging station. You can plug it into a regular 110 volt, level 1 socket, however you will need 10 hours for a 50 mile charge and a whopping 30 hours for a full charge.

In real world driving, the Leaf is getting 70 – 80, not the claimed 100 miles per charge. I’d expect a similar decrement for the CODA; but my lovely, knowledgeable and engaging Guru, Sophie, assured me that CODA’s battery was different and better. She was absolutely positive I could cruise out to Palm Springs (125 miles), at 70 mph, with air conditioning and radio blasting, and still have extra range on arrival.

My "guru" Sophie Nenner from the Century City store. She was absolutely delightful and could answer any question I threw at her. If you're interested, you can contact Sophie for a test drive.

The battery pack and battery management hardware lie flat in the chassis, between the rear wheels and front axle, giving the CODA sedan a low CG (center of gravity). CODA’s proprietary “Active Thermal Management System” keeps the battery at an even temperature whether you’re in snow or sizzling in the desert.

Engineers claim the CODA 1.0 Sedan handles like a sports car because of the even weight distribution, low CG and 221 lb-ft of torque that is available from zero with the 100 kw/134 hp UQM Technologies motor attached to a single-speed Borg Warner transmission. A sports car it’s not, but it is a credible commuter car.

So far, all I’ve talked about is the battery. CODA’s own literature says “…Around the battery, we built a car, a company and a brand.” In fact, CODA’s first car is really just a great battery in search of better clothes and accessories.

I’ll start with the anonymous late 1990s exterior styling. Our friend Tom Pease was told it was an unproduced Mitsubishi design.  Maybe; but it could have been any econo-box from that time period. It’s hard to get excited about the sparky stuff when the exterior is such a non-conductor.

The sober and utilitarian interior is a United Nations of leftover or dated parts from Tier 1 suppliers. It all looks familiar in a generic way. You’re surrounded by two-tone imitation Apple white and dark gray hard plastic panels (the car’s one attempt at “style”), a simulated cardboard headliner, minimal instrumentation and manual HVAC controls that look like they came from a 1995 Toyota Yaris. Don’t look up – there’s no sunroof and you can’t get one.

A side view of the CODA 1.0 Sedan

A rear view of the CODA 1.0 Sedan

The center dash houses an Alpine navigation-infotainment system with a distinctive aftermarket look. It boasts custom software to display the essential EV diagnostics, charging station locations and the all-important real-time range calculator. It was still in beta format on my test drive so I can’t tell you how well it works, but I do know it has Bluetooth and iPod/iPhone connectivity. There is no satellite radio option.

The "cockpit" of the CODA. Note the center rotary gear selector knob. This ain't no Jag.

The driver's door of the CODA. The two-tone theme was its the only attempt at "style."

The CODA’s center-mounted cylindrical gear selector looked and felt cheap. I thought it twisted too fast without easily discernible notches or stops. Is that Park or Reverse? Oops, I dinged the rear bumper on a concrete bollard in the subterranean garage.

You start the little sedan with an old-school key – no new-flanged push button start here. Except for the infotainment system, this car felt like a stripped, 15 year old Korean subcompact. The only option package available was the $1,495 leather seating surfaces and “premium” (better speakers) audio system.

My pre-production tester had the aforementioned “premium” package. I wondered if the hard, flat French-stitched leather seats were worse than the cheap cloth “standard” seats. In either trim, only the driver’s seat gets a rake adjustment and my 6’1” frame wished for more thigh and lateral support. I wasn’t in the car long enough to judge the seat’s long-term virtues; but I’m a bit skeptical. If you have back seat passengers, they need to be short, thin and distracted. The center fifth seat should only be used to coerce confessions. At least the 60/40 split folding seats offer extra cargo flexibility.

The back seat of the CODA

The folding rear seats do allow for some extra cargo capacity. Maybe it would work for skiis or a long narrow package from IKEA.

Emerging from the underground parking structure, I was immediately struck by the road noise – something much more pronounced on silent EVs. Your next sensation will be a moment of panic when you hit the hyper-sensitive, spongy regenerative brakes. There’s no assured linear feel here. It makes you long for the grabby brakes on a Prius.

On the plus side, acceleration was brisk and fun and the car felt solid and rattle free. The electric power steering isn’t going to win awards, but I felt in control even if there was little road feedback. While the car is a tad heavy at 3,670 lbs, the well-distributed weight didn’t seem to get in the way.

Overall, while it was a fun drive, the CODA lacked the creature comforts, advanced features, modern styling and unified design of its rivals from well-established manufacturers with vast dealer networks. The CODA’s trump card is its extended-range, fast-charging battery.

The CODA’s base MSRP of $45,795 is expensive. After the $7,500 federal tax credit and the $2,500 California BEV incentive, the price comes down to $35,795. But that’s thousands more (after credits and incentives) than a fully-loaded Volt ($33,135) or Leaf ($27,250) and about the same as the new Plug-in Prius Advanced ($35,525).

So what’s a battery with four wheels worth? CODA gives zero emissions customers the tantalizing promise of extended range, fast charging and an entertaining powertrain. For the target customer – early adopters, tech-geek and eco-freaks – the uninspired, low-rent packaging may short-circuit enthusiasm for this ambitious little car.

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CODA Experience Center

Westfield Century City

10250 Santa Monica Blvd, #133 (near Breadbar & the AMC Cinemas)

Los Angeles, CA 90069

(424) 249-1616

When I first downloaded the BMW EVolve app last week, I thought it was just a cute exercise in alleviating electric vehicle range anxiety.  The app uses the phone’s built-in GPS sensors to track your driving habits and routes — how far you drive, how fast you go, etc.  Think of it as pre-conditioning for the eventual electrification of the automobile and as a cheerleader for BMW’s i-Series (i3) electric MegaCity Vehicle (MCV) that won’t be here until 2013.

BMW's EVolve app for the iPhone

BMW i3 prototype caught in winter tests. Photos courtesy of

However, in reality, the app was the drum roll before BMW’s Earth Day 2011 introduction its first EV to bear its own corporate logo: The ActiveE.  The EVolve app has a countdown battery gauge that starts with 100 miles, the claimed full-charge range of the upcoming ActiveE, an electrified 1-Series Coupé, that will be available for lease sometime later this year.

The MINI E was BMW’s warm up act.  Think of it as a rolling EV lab that uses humans as test drivers to better understand how batteries and electric drivetrains behave in “real world” driving conditions.  It was an expensive little car ($50,700 – but I think that’s a fantasy low-ball number picked out of thin air by BMW Financial Services) that gave early adopters a chance at driving a real EV.

2009 MINI E

Unfortunately, the MINI E was compromised with a large, heavy battery pack that took the place of the back seat. Worse, that battery tended to under-perform in the cold and overheat in the hot So Cal summers.

MINI E drivers were asked to pay a whopping $850+ tax per month ($932.87 in 9.75% LA County) plus the cost of installing a charger.  The lease included comprehensive and collision coverage; but not liability insurance.  There was grumbling in the MINI universe from “average Joe” drivers asked to pay that stiff $850+ tax/month while BMW offered the same car to various municipalities and non-profits for $10 (yes, ten dollars) a month.  Ouch.

The MINI E was originally leased for one year starting in 2009; however, BMW has “generously” allowed MINI E lessees a chance to extend their lease another year (2010 to 2011) and now, to keep their car until the ActiveE comes to market later this year.  MINI E lease holders will get first dibs on an new ActiveE later this year.  Of course, they still have to keep making those egregious lease payments.

I’m not sure who benefited most from the past two years of the MINI E experiment.  MINI E lessees drank the Kool Aid and can’t say a bad thing about the car;  however, I was specifically warned not to enter the trial because there were so many annoying problems with the car.  I’m inclined to believe my BMW insiders on this point.

That leaves the BMW engineers as the major benefactors. The past two years must have produced mountains of valuable information and feedback that will make the new ActiveE a much more competent and useful EV.

Not since the M1 of more than 30 years ago has a BMW had a rear-mid-ship mounted power plant.  The ActiveE’s, power electronics, electric motor and rear axle all form a complete unit.   This is the same configuration BMW will use in the upcoming i3 MCV.  The all-new liquid cooled lithium-ion battery back runs through the spine of the chassis and includes modules under the hood helping the ActiveE hit the magic 50/50 front/rear weight distribution ratio – a hallmark of the BMW brand.

The BMW ActiveE electric guts revealed

BMW’s ActiveE drivers will be offered a much more affordable and realistic 24 month lease for $499/month with $2,250 down.  With tax and amortizing the up-front payment, the monthly cost pencils out to $650.54.  The insurance arrangement should be the same as the MINI E, but no one has seen the actual lease yet.

At one third less than the MINI E lease payment,  you get a car  fully capable of living up to BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” tag-line.  As a bonus, you even get a two rear seats and a small trunk!

2012 BMW ActiveE - an electrified 1-Series Coupe

The BMW ActiveE

BMW Group engineers developed everything that constitutes the ActiveE:  the energy storage module, its wiring, the permanent magnet synchronous electric motor, the power electronics and the transmission.  If you want to control the quality of the product, keep it in-house.

The only the batteries were co-developed with SB LiMotive exclusively for automotive use (a knock at Telsa which uses stacks of lithium-ion batteries originally designed for laptop computers).  [SB LiMotive Ltd. is a 50/50 joint venture between Bosch and Samsung.]

BMW says the ActiveE has maximum power output from the electric drive system of 170 hp with 184 lb-ft torque, available from a standstill, as is the case with all electric vehicles.  BMW pegs the ActiveE’s 0-60 mph time at under 9 seconds with an electronically-limited top speed of 90 mph.

BMW ActiveE electronic umbilical cord

I’ve been testing the new BMW EVolve app on my iPhone. In general, there is almost no time that I could exhaust the 100 mile range in my normal daily struggle through our gridlocked, pot-holed streets.

However, I failed the EV test when I drove to Palm Springs over Easter weekend.  Yup, to get out of LA – any destination outside a 45 mile radius from my home – I’d need a “weekend car” or an extended Range EV like the Chevy Volt (MSRP $41,000 before federal/state tax credits) or Fisker Karma ($95,900 before federal/state tax credits).

2011 Chevrolet Volt extended range EV

2012 Fisker Karma extended range EV

BMW is looking for customers interested in the ActiveE.  To lease the ActiveE, you have to live in one of the following metro areas: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, New York City, Boston and all of Connecticut.  You can explore more about the ActiveE and sign up to be notified when they start the field trials at

BMW has also developed a slick Apple iPhone app for the ActiveE called ConnectedDrive, similar to those already developed for the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.  ConnectedDrive can romotely lock and unlcok the doors, activate the horn or headlights helping you find your car, CarFinder to locate your car within a 3,300 ft radius and Google’s Local Search function.

BMW ActiveE iPhone App

The ActiveE's information and navigation screen will mirror much of what is on the Smartphone app and is internet connected.

BMW will test a fleet of 1,000 ActiveE vehicles throughout the US, Europe and China.  For the MINI E trials, 450 of the 600 cars landed in the US, so it’s reasonable to expect at least 50% of the ActiveE allocation will come to the US.

I’d love to try it, but I’m waiting for my weekend car first.

Click here for a PDF of the press release: BMW_ActiveE_Electric_Vehicle_Press_Release