Some green car tests are conducted under very controlled conditions, with nervous company executives riding shotgun. Coda’s chief executive, Kevin Czinger, brought his company’s electric sedan into the hurly-burly of Times Square in Manhattan. The last time I rode in this car, it was in Greenwich, Conn.
The Coda is a small battery-powered sedan with a much-modified Mitsubishi-licensed chassis that is made in China, where Coda also has a joint venture to produce lithium-ion batteries. The company said it is hoping to build a new battery plant in Ohio, but that would require a loan from the Energy Department.
“I think our chances are very good,” Mr. Czinger said. “The industrial logic is there. We are in series production with our own battery system, and we want to take our know-how and couple it to manufacturing in the U.S.”
Mr. Czinger, a fit, compact man with close-cropped hair, is his company’s best salesman, and he was behind the wheel for a spin around Times Square. It was a hot day with a lot of stop-and-go traffic, but Mr. Czinger said that an active forced-air thermal management system was keeping the Coda’s 33.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack cool. A ceramic heater is in place to keep it warm in colder temperatures. “Our battery system is in some ways over-engineered,” Mr. Czinger said.
Mr. Czinger saw a brief opening in traffic and the car darted forward, exhibiting the strong off-the-line performance inherent to battery vehicles. Coda claims a range of 120 miles in city traffic, and 90 to 100 on the highway. At a light, a man leaned in and asked about the car. “Take a look at Codaautomotive.com,” replied Mr. Czinger, ever the salesman. “It’s out this year.”
This year means the fourth quarter for actual consumer deliveries, a small setback in Coda’s original plans. According to Mr. Czinger, the company will start taking deposits at the end of July, and by late September it will have pre-production cars offering rides to would-be purchasers at small test-drive centers around California (the car’s sole initial market).
Mr. Czinger estimates that 60 percent of his early sales will be in fleet applications, 40 percent to individual consumers. To reassure customers concerned about the lack of a dealer network, Coda is working with Bridgestone/Firestone centers on servicing and AAA for roadside assistance. Home-based chargers, which Mr. Czinger said would meet at least 80 percent of his private customers’ charging needs, will be installed by the Sears/Kenmore electrician network.
In Coda’s rearview mirror, the Nissan Leaf has to loom large. Nissan’s battery car will be out around the same time and probably at around the same price as the Coda sedan. The Leaf also has the advantage of a built-in dealer network, a large media budget and brand familiarity. But Mr. Czinger says it will kick in its own marketing campaign at the end of July, in part wrapped around an Internet strategy.
So what’s the value proposition?
“We offer American technology in a car with a real rear seat and full trunk space,” Mr. Czinger said. “One hundred percent of what we do is clean technology, and we can talk about that to put butts in seats. Coda is a unique brand.”