Posts Tagged ‘Leaf’

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

CODA Experience Center

Westfield Century City

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

Los Angeles, CA 90069

(424) 249-1616


To understand writer and director Chris Paine’s new documentary, Revenge of the Electric Car, you really need some background from his 2006 film Who Killed The Electric Car? The ensuing five years is only one product cycle in the auto biz; but these last few years were unlike anything the industry has seen in more than half a century.

Who Killed opens with a mock funeral for GM’s EV1 electric car at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, complete with Hollywood celebrities and environmentalists. It’s a fitting introduction to Mr. Paine’s investigation into the untimely death of the EV1.

The 2002 GM EV1

The film follows the fight between a group EV1 drivers and an evil corporate monster by the name of General Motors that refused to extend the leases or sell the cars to the lessees at the their stated residual values. You just know this isn’t going to end well.

The saddest and most dramatic moment from Who Killed takes place on March 14, 2005 when GM trucked all the remaining EV1s from a nondescript storage parking lot in Burbank to a desert graveyard where they were all crushed. [GM did donate a disabled EV1 to the Petersen Automotive Museum.]

From 2005, a stack of crushed EV1s in a desert graveyard.

There was a lot of blame to go around as far as who really killed the electric car. GM didn’t want to send a mixed message of “clean” versus “dirty” vehicles to its customers and its dealers didn’t see much service revenue from an electric car.

Then there was the false hope, pushed by oil companies, of a hydrogen fuel cell car when mass market hydrogen technology and infrastructure was still decades away. And it goes without saying that Big Oil isn’t thrilled with a transportation future that doesn’t involve sales of their products.

And then there was the surprise villain, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), that caved into pressure from automakers, oil interests and federal and state politicians to get rid of California’s zero emissions vehicle mandate. Once the mandate was gone, GM no longer needed the EV1 in its portfolio.

At the end of Who Killed The Electric Car? there was a ray of renewable sunlight that pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles were already mounting a come back. The Tesla Roadster was promising and aftermarket tinkerers were modifying the standard Prius to be a plug-in vehicle.

2011 Tesla Roadster 2.5

Fast forward to 2011 and oh how things have changed. The world economy tanked in 2008 and we are still in a recession or a jobless recovery, depending on how you look at it. GM and Chrysler were put though government-sponsored bankruptcies in 2009 and both have emerged stronger than ever with new products people are actually buying.  And Americans are buying smaller cars with smaller engines.

In 2010, the previously-unstoppable Toyota juggernaut hit an iceberg with numerous sudden acceleration, safety and quality problems. Ford survived the Great Recession without a government bailout and it’s now on a roll with great new products people want.

But most significantly, GM is back in the EV game with the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric-hybrid vehicle and the battery-electric Nissan Leaf  is on sale now.  Of course, Los Angeles is ground zero for both of these advanced alternative fuel vehicles.

A 2012 Chevrolet Volt

The 2011 Nissan Leaf

Mr. Paine’s new documentary, Revenge of the Electric Car, opens with classic aerial views of the Los Angeles freeways. Dan Neil, arguably the smartest and most influential automotive journalist in the country, the man that critiques anything from a Ferrari F458 sports car to a Mazda5 minivan, explains his transformation from a gasoholic to a true EV believer.

Where as Who Killed is a “who done it,” Revenge is about “who’s doing it” and the race to be first to market with consumer-friendly electric cars. To tell the story, Pain weaves together the tale of four very different but equally dedicated EV protagonists.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk

"Maximum" Bob Lutz, former GM Vice Chairman

First up is the mercurial, PayPal-rich entrepreneur Elon Musk, a co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors. Tesla’s precarious finances nearly bankrupt both the company and Mr. Musk. In one dramatic scene, Mr. Musk is accused by angry Tesla customers of perpetrating a bait-and-switch by selling them a Roadster at one price then raising the price on delivery. Astonishingly, Mr. Musk pretty much admits to doing just that.

Cigar-chomping, fighter jet piloting, egotistical, Mr. Horsepower, EV and global warming skeptic and (at the time) GM Vice Chairman “Maximum” Bob Lutz is the unlikely champion of the Chevy Volt. Mr. Lutz had the foresight to drag GM out of its self-made corporate sink hole and pushed for the development of the unique extended-range electric Volt.

Although GM’s 2009 bankruptcy slowed it down, the Volt became a production reality in December 2010. The fact that it exists is no small miracle given GM’s legendary insular, glacially-paced culture and most of the credit goes to Lutz.

Nissan and Renault CEO, Carlos Ghosn

Reverend Gadget: Greg Abbott and his wife Charlotte

Then there is the impenetrable and laser-focused Brazilian-Lebanese-French Carlos Ghosn, the Chairman and CEO of Nissan and Renault. He is confident in his leadership and he’s bet the future of Nissan on the electrification of the automobile. If he’s right, Nissan will become a global leader in electric cars.

The role of the backyard converter is played by the real-life Greg “ Rev. Gadget” Abbott, a scrappy guy who can electrify any car. Based in LA, Greg and his company, Left Coast Electric, struggle to stay in business. You really root for Rev. Gadget and, in the end, Greg and his wife successfully drive an electrified vintage Porsche 356 Speedster replica the more than 120 miles from LA to Palm Springs on one charge. It’s a beautiful love story – both personal and professional.

Rev. Gadget's electrified Porsche 356 Speedster

Revenge of the Electric Car is well knitted together and fast paced. The filmmakers had unprecedented access to the inside workings of Tesla, GM and Nissan and the results are both revealing and fascinating.

Tim Robbins narrates and smart editing interjects all different perspectives from politicians like Gavin Newsom, celebrities like Danny Devito and Stephen Colbert, and journalists like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and Ray Wert of the automotive website

The story of the electric car is still being written; but if you want to know how we got to where we are, Revenge of the Electric Car is a rare and intriguing look behind the scenes of the highly-secretive automotive industry.

Elon Musk, Rocket Man:

Bob Lutz, Mr. Detroit:

Carlos Ghosn, The Warrior:

Greg “Gadget” Abbott, The Outsider:

Revenge of the Electric Car opens in Los Angeles and New York on October 21.