The Santa Monica-based electric car company (soon to relocate to L.A. from what I hear) finally expects to start selling in the second half of the year, and the big question is how many people will be interested in a $44,900 vehicle with limited driving range (roughly 90 to 120 miles). They're certainly anticipating a modest start: roughly 10,000 sales in the first year, mainly to early adopters, rental car companies, and government agencies (refundable deposits of $499 have been accepted for months). After the initial rush, Coda's prospects blur; there's already plenty of competition from the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla S, among others--and no one knows how many customers are willing to buy in. I profile Coda in the June issue of Los Angeles magazine:
Nestled near the ground and taking up the entire space between the rear wheels and front axle, the battery is made up of 728 lithium-ion cells and gives off 34 kilowatt-hours of energy (lithium-ion batteries pack lots of energy for their weight and discharge slowly when not in use). Longer battery life means greater range, which is good. Electric cars are also cleaner: The Coda emits about 0.375 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile; a gas-powered car getting 22 miles to the gallon emits about 1 pound per mile. The downside is that the batteries are expensive to make, almost as much as the rest of the vehicle, and they require a separate recharging station that's priced at more than $1,000 (and don't forget the huge increase in electric bills).
The pitch to investors centered not just on the battery but on the economical way in which the car could be put together. Coda's strategy was to avoid making its own parts, instead outsourcing the car's components to several dozen manufacturers around the world. "We are a capital-light company," says [Steven Heller, Coda's executive chairman], explaining that a drop in car production has resulted in excess capacity at plants around the world. "It struck us as advantageous to assemble the car on a contract basis." Instead of establishing dealerships, they opted to sell their sedan on the Internet. The site's "Range Phobia" feature lets visitors plug in their daily commutes, which typically run less than 40 miles a day, well under Coda's range on a single charge. If customers want a test drive, they'll be able to visit a company-owned retail store where several vehicles will be available (the first location is scheduled to open later this year at Westfield Century City).