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Chinese-made Coda electric sedan looks to plug in to U.S. market

Wed, 03 Jun 2009 00:00:00 -0700

There's some competition for the Tesla Model S. Santa Monica, Calif.-based Coda Automotive unveiled its first electric car on Wednesday, and it's no golf cart.

The Chinese-made, four-door, five-seat sedan has everything from Bluetooth and navigation to an iPod dock and a finished interior. The car will sticker for $45,000 when it goes on sale in fall 2010, but federal and state rebates could lower that to the mid-$30,000 range.

Speaking of range, the Coda sedan will get between 90 and 120 miles of what the carmaker calls "real-world range" from its 728 prismatic lithium-ion batteries. Recharges take six hours on 220 volts. Top speed is a freeway-capable 80 mph.

We rode in the passenger seat for a few blocks near Coda headquarters and found the car did, in fact, accelerate, turn and brake, so it's not just vaporware. It accelerated pretty smoothly, too. Our technician driver said the pedal software allows a progressive action to keep the wheels from spinning on launch. We couldn't tell how it felt to steer but all systems seemed to function just fine.

The car was a prototype, so it might not be fair to judge the fit and finish we saw inside, but it was certainly ahead of that found on so-called neighborhood electric vehicles we've driven.

Perhaps the most innovative thing about the Coda is its provenance. The design began life as a home-market Mitsubishi sedan that was then licensed to Chinese carmaker Hafei. Hafei makes an internal combustion version of this car, named Saibao, for sale in China.

Rather than start from the ground up, Coda designed an electric powertrain to insert on the Saibao assembly line, along with about 95 changes to the chassis, thus saving about $1 billion dollars right off the bat. Coda says that the car has passed all U.S. government crash standards and Coda expects it to get--depending on who you ask--four or five stars in the NCAP test.

Coda is a separate entity that grew out of Miles Electric Vehicles. Coda makes highway speed-capable EVs while Miles continues to manufacture low-speed EVs for sales to fleets.

The batteries come from a joint venture with Chinese battery-maker Lishen, a major supplier of lithium-ion cells for computers and cell phones. The chemistry includes iron instead of cobalt in the lithium mix for increased battery life.

"I think five or 10 years from now, we'll get cars with 1 million miles on the original battery pack," said Kevin Czinger, president and CEO of Coda.

"Our thing is to create a mass-market car and still be profitable," added Czinger. "We have a price that is a fraction of what anybody else can do."

Now let's see whether they can do it. To get more info, visit

By Mark Vaughn