Coda: The 'Non-Elitist' Electric Car?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 09 Sep 2009

When Miles Automotive became Miles Electric, the company announced that it would be bringing to market a fully certified, highway-capable electric sedan based on Hafei Automobile Group's Saibao, a gasoline-engine car. The original idea was to sell it for under US$30,000. But with time and engineering redesign to make it not only an electric car, but also give it a bit of its own distictive character (see original Hafei Saibao below), the cost began to escalate. Subsequenty announcements saw the price rise above $30,000 and now the latest estimate puts it around $45,000 with a $7,500 federal tax credit dropping the final price to $37,500, over twice the cost of a Kia Spectra LX sedan.

So when company president Kevin Czinger refers in the short video below to his company's pioneering, but decidely still expensive automobile as "not elitest" and a practical vehicle for the "mainstream," I have to wonder which stream he's fishing in. Now granted, the Coda is a nice car with lots of features, the best one being it doesn't use a drop of gasoline. Its 34kWh LiFePO4 battery pack will propel the five-passenger car between 90-100 miles at speeds up to 80 mph, so it will be suitable for most people's driving needs; and many EV1, EV-Plus and Toyota RAV4 EV drivers in California discovered a decade ago, it will likely become the owner's primary commuter vehicle.

I have to assume that Mr. Czinger is comparing the Coda to the Fisker Karma and Tesla Roadster, both very expensive automobiles at $89,000 and $109,000 respectively, hardly on the shopping list of mainstream America where one of the most popular vehicles sold every year is the Ford F150 pickup truck and many "mainstream" buyers now include Kia and Hyundai on their shopping list along with Chevy and Ford.

Coda will begin testing American mainstream waters starting in 2010 with a few thousand cars and hopes that eventually they can ramp up to 20,000 cars annually. But they also face potentially stiff competition from the likes of Nissan and Ford starting in the 2012 time frame. At the moment, none of these companies can make a compelling economic case for their vehicles, not with relatively cheap gasoline engines as their chief competitor and the fuel to power them still readily available, at least in the USA. While readers of EV World understand the necessity behind the shift towards electric drive for economic, geopolitical, military and environmental reasons, I would wager that the "mainstream" has less of an appreciation of this eventuality. I fear they are going to take one look at the Coda, shake their heads at the "elitest" price tag and walk away.

Only when I can buy (or lease) an electric vehicle for not much more than a comparable gasoline car will we have an EV for the rest of us.

Hafei Saibo

The Coda began life as a gasoline engined sedan manufactured by Hafei Automotive Group in China.

Hafei Saibao gasoline engine sedan.

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