Southern California EV startup Coda Automotive hit a milestone when it opened its first retail store and started offering test drives to folks in the Los Angeles area.
The move comes as a growing number of automakers bring cars with cords to market, and it offers encouragement that Coda will hit its goal of delivering electric vehicles by year’s end.
“This is a very big milestone for us, and something we’ve been looking forward to for a very long time,” CEO Philip Murtaugh said.
Coda Automotive pulled a page from the Apple playbook, opening a slick retail store – the place is awash in bare concrete, reclaimed lumber and recycled stainless steel – in a Century City shopping mall on Thursday. The idea, Murtaugh said, was to put electric vehicles in a high-traffic location with lots of visibility.
So far, it appears to be working.
“Even before we opened the store we’ve had 200 people stop by to ask about the car,” Murtaugh said. “It’s been unbelievable.”
Building buzz and getting people behind the wheel is key, because Coda has a tough row to hoe.
As an upstart automaker, Coda faces an uphill fight against the Nissan Leaf, the forthcoming Ford Focus Electric and other battery-powered sedans. The prototype we saw in 2009 impressed us, but the company’s gone through some shakeups and at least two production delays. Things appear to have stabilized since Coda poached Murtaugh from General Motors and put Thomas Fritz — a Ford and BMW veteran — in charge of engineering.
Once it had a firm hand on the tiller, Coda turned its attention to getting its eponymous car built. The Coda isn’t sexy — frankly, it looks like every Japanese econobox we’ve ever seen — but Coda never aspired to build anything more than a practical EV with excellent range. If the specs are any indication, the company appears to have succeeded.
The Coda is roughly the same size as the Honda Civic and offers similar performance and amenities. Power comes from a 100 kilowatt (134 horsepower) electric motor with 221 pound-feet of torque. We haven’t driven one yet (hint, hint) but Murtaugh promises a zero to 60 time under 10 seconds.
No, that’s not terribly fast, but again, the Coda was never meant to be a rocket.
The car’s biggest selling point is its massive 36 kilowatt-hour lithium iron phosphate battery. That’s 50 percent larger than the pack in the Nissan Leaf, with a similar jump in range. Although Coda claims a max range of 150 miles, expect an EPA-certified figure of 110.
“We’re anticipating that’s the rating we’ll get from the EPA,” Murtaugh said. “We’ve done all the testing, and that’s what we’ve come up with. The Nissan is [EPA-certified] at 73.”
The battery was designed and developed in-house through a joint venture with China’s Lishun Power Battery. The 400-kilogram pack uses 728 cells and features active air heating and cooling through a proprietary battery management system.
Coda is confident enough in the battery to offer an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty on the pack — the same as General Motors and Nissan — and Murtaugh says internal tests show it will rack up “well over 150,000 miles.”
Range is definitely a selling point for the Coda, as is the car’s 6.6 kilowatt on-board charger. Everyone else is using a 3.3, which means the Coda will recharge in roughly half the time required for other cars.
“We charge twice as fast as our competitors,” Murtaugh said. “The Nissan charges in 8 hours. We charge in 4.”
It’s no mistake Murtaugh keeps claiming his car is better than the Leaf. He has to, because it’s vastly more expensive than the Leaf. The Coda starts at $45,795 before the $7,500 federal EV tax credit. Compare that to the Leaf’s starting price of $35,200 before the credit and you see why Coda’s got a tough climb ahead of it.
That’s a considerable chunk of change, and a lot to ask of consumers when you’re a startup few people beyond the EV community have heard of. Murtaugh knows it’s a challenge, but he firmly believes Coda offers a better value.
“We have best-in-class power and acceleration,” he said. “We are the only EV with a full-size trunk. We offer better range than the Leaf, faster recharge and our battery is more durable. There’s value in those things.”
It remains to be seen whether consumers believe that, but at least five corporate fleets will be adding Codas to their ranks. Coda is finalizing details, so Murtaugh wouldn’t name names, but we already knew Hertz is on the list.
The company plans to offer the Coda largely to fleets to begin with, but will make the car available to retail customers in the L.A. area. Murtaugh says initial indications show “we’re talking several thousand vehicles” during the next year.
Photos: Coda Automotive