Posts Tagged ‘Tesla’

Somewhere in cyberspace, an anonymous scribe is preparing an entry for Fisker Automotive, Inc. in Wikipedia’s List_of_defunct_automobile_manufacturers_of_the_United_States.

2012 Fisker Karma. R.I.P. Fisker Automotive, Inc. 2007-2013.

2012 Fisker Karma. R.I.P. Fisker Automotive, Inc. 2007-2013.

Fortunately for investors in Fisker Automotive, this week the media’s attention is focused on much more serious events happening in Boston. Sure, Fisker’s filing for bankruptcy will make the news, just not for nearly the number of news cycles usually devoted to this kind of failure.  Bloviating “experts” will excoriate the Obama Administration for giving Fisker a $528.7 million Department of Energy “Advanced Technologies Vehicle Manufacturing” loan. Automotive executives will say that they knew Fisker had bad karma.  Blah, blah, blah….

The Fisker Karma's interior looks nice, except there were lots of complaints about sloppy workmanship, poor fit/finish and cramped quarters.

The Fisker Karma’s interior looks nice, except there were lots of complaints about sloppy workmanship, poor fit/finish and cramped quarters.

In Los Angeles, we have different tea leaves that pick winners and losers in the rarefied niche market of advanced technology hybrid and electric vehicles. Roaming our streets on a daily basis is a never-ending parade of beautiful, fast, exotic, expensive and classic cars – not to mention the countless hybrids. LA has a large enough market for low-volume high-tech, advanced drivetrain vehicles that low volume, expensive cars have a place here. If we like it here, the vehicle and/or its underlying technology stand a good chance of expanding and flourishing.

On any given day driving around Metro LA, you can see exotic cars like the Honda FCX Clarity, a Tesla Roadster or a Mercedes-Benz B-Class FCV (Fuel Cell Vehicle). The Chevy Volt is more popular than the Chevy Cruze.  The BMW ActiveE isn’t a stranger.  Last year, the Toyota Prius was the best-selling vehicle in California – no surprise to anyone as you can’t drive anywhere without being surrounded by them.

The Coda sedan. CODA Automotive's first and likely its last car.

The Coda sedan. CODA Automotive’s first and likely its last car.

When CODA Automotive opened up its first store in the fall of 2011, in the Century City Shopping Mall, I visited the store and tested the Coda – the company’s first offering, an all-electric sedan. That was November 2011 and I pronounced the Coda dead-on-arrival. The $45,750 (later reduced to $37,250) Coda was far to expensive, even with up to $10,000 in federal and state tax credits. It borrowed styling from a decades-old still-born Mitsubishi econobox and I found it primitive and uncomfortable. It was a battery and a drivetrain in search of a body. No one bought it.

By the time CODA Automotive abruptly ceased nearly all operations in December 2012, the LA Times reported that it had sales of no more than 78 vehicles based on a recall notice issued by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. I never saw one on the open road.

By contrast, the Nissan Leaf was less expensive, thoroughly modern, futuristic-looking and far better equipped. And the Leaf was backed by an extensive network of Nissan dealers. Last year, Nissan sold 9,819 Leafs. Last month (March 2013), Nissan sold 2,236 Leafs. Today, the Leaf is a common sighting in LA.

Justin Bieber's Fisker Karma in chrome. You know, a "stealth color" right? Photo:

Justin Bieber’s Fisker Karma in chrome. You know, a “stealth color” right? Photo:

With the arrival of Fisker Santa Monica in 2011, the stage was set for “volume” sales of the highly-anticipated Fisker Karma, an extended-range electric vehicle. Suddenly the Fisker Karma was all over the wealthier areas of Metro LA. Justin Bieber bought (or was given) one painted in bright chrome and was notoriously chased by the paparazzi. Leonardo DiCaprio had one. Wealthy Santa Monica entertainment executives with the need for a green veneer but a disdain for a common Toyota, were customers.

In 2012, the curvaceous  cramped, four-door, six figure, five thousand three hundred pound Karma became a common sight in LA. It was like the iPhone 5 of the wealthy eco-conscious car buyers. Flash with a bit less guilt.

But as with everything in the tech industry, things can change instantly and customers are fickle. The batteries caught fire. Consumer Reports bought a Karma and it bricked. Battery packs were recalled. Fisker stopped production of the Karma and lost thousands of cars in Super Storm Sandy. On October 16, 2012, A123 Systems, Inc., the supplier of the battery pack for the Karma, did the corporate version of bricking.

The Fisker Karma had a very fetching hind quarters belying its porky 5,300 curb weight.

The Fisker Karma had a very fetching hind quarters belying its porky 5,300 curb weight.

Even if 2012 had been clear sailing for Fisker, its fate was sealed when the pure electric $100,000 Tesla Model S debuted last July. With the 85 kWh flat-floor battery pack, an EPA certified range of 265 miles, a much larger interior and gobs of cargo capacity, that stunning 17 inch infotainment/control display and sports car handling, suddenly the $100,000 Karma’s 32 mile EV range and “extended range” of up to 300 miles didn’t seem so impressive.

The 2013 Tesla Model S won Car of the Year awards from both Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine.

The 2013 Tesla Model S won Car of the Year awards from both Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine.

Then, near the end of 2012, the Model S snagged two very important COTY awards from Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine. The LA-based orders started to pile up for the Model S.

Almost all controls inside the Tesla Model S are accessed on the brilliant 17 inch full-color, fully-internet enabled center touch screen.

Almost all controls inside the Tesla Model S are accessed on the brilliant 17 inch full-color, fully-internet enabled center touch screen.

You might see the tail end of the Tesla Model S more often than the front because this car is seriously fast and can easily blow past the most powerful German sedans.

You might see the tail end of the Tesla Model S more often than the front because this car is seriously fast and can easily blow past the most powerful German sedans.

A black hole has been sucking the Karma off the streets of LA and like the Big Bang, the Model S has exploded on the city, everywhere I go. A shady, apartment lined street in West Hollywood.  Abbot Kinney in Venice. BOA Steak House. The Palm Springs Art Museum. Ralph’s parking lot. Sunset Plaza. USC. The 405. The 10.

A new 2013 Tesla Model S enjoys Doris Day parking at BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood.

A new 2013 Tesla Model S enjoys Doris Day parking at BOA Steakhouse in West Hollywood.

Another new Tesla Model S is able to find a coveted street parking space on Abbot Kinney in Venice.

Another new Tesla Model S is able to find a coveted street parking space on Abbot Kinney in Venice.

Range anxiety? Not with that big battery pack and the $1,200 optional Tesla Twin Charger that can double the charging speed at home or the office. And if you’re on the road, locate one of Tesla’s Supercharger Stations that can recharge the 85 kWh battery – more than 250 miles of range – in one hour. Pretty awesome.

We are witnessing very rare automotive history here in Los Angeles with the life and death of Fisker and the Karma and the rise of the Tesla Model S.  I’ve never seen a car become so hot so fast and then nearly disappear to be replaced by another even hotter car — not even when the Hummer disappeared with the fuel spikes in 2008 to be replaced by the Prius.

I kind of feel bad for the Karma.  She got dumped for a virgin electric with a bigger battery, a dazzling infotainment interface (17 inches!) and sports sedan handling good enough for the exclusive six-figure German mash pit. However, I don’t see too many Karmas being sold into indentured servitude on the resale market. Only a few thousand were ever produced and sold, and none really saw hard time, so while you won’t see many on the road, most will find their way into private collections and museums.

As the bankruptcy vultures prepare to dismantle Fisker, we can be sure that Hernik Fisker, while a talented designer, is not destined to be the Henry Ford of ER/EVs, despite sharing his initials. Fisker Automotive will take its place in the sprawling automotive graveyard among such former luminaries as Packard, Duesenberg, Tucker, Studebaker, Pontiac and Plymouth. The automotive business is complex and cut-throat and few start-ups survive.  R.I.P. Fisker Automotive.

April 25, 2013, Editor’s note: On April 1, 2013, Tesla announced that it had delivered “more than 4,730 Model S Cars” for the first quarter of 2013. For the same period, the competition sold:

  • Audi A8 – 1,462
  • Audi A7 – 2,083
  • BMW 7-Series – 2,338
  • BMW 6-Series (including the Gran Coupe) – 2,071
  • Lexus LS – 2,860
  • Mercedes-Benz S-Class – 3,077
  • Mercedes- Benz CLS – 1,695

So when you look at the $100,000+ luxury class, the Tesla Model S seems to be ahead of the class. These statistics support my observations that the Model S has transcended the EV range anxiety and it’s overall excellence is attracting its share of the luxury market.  This is an amazing accomplishment for the first mass-produced car from a start-up manufacturer.

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