California buyers will have the chance to purchase a Chinese-built highway-capable all-electric car by the end of this year. That was the promise made by Coda Automotive CEO Kevin Czinger to a group of about 60 automotive journalists last week. Speaking to a meeting of the Western Automotive Journalists, Czinger revised earlier pronouncements on price, declaring that after the $7,500 federal tax credit, a new Coda sedan will retail for about $30,000, a price comparable to a high-end Toyota Prius with similar equipment. That price point should be very competitive with the Chevy Volt, although will be perhaps $2,000 to $3,000 more than the Nissan Leaf. The Coda sedan, Volt, and Leaf will all go on sale in late 2010.
“We’re focused on the battery,” Czinger said in summary of his start-up company’s reason for being. “We have the first and best (automotive scale) mass-produced battery pack” and “we own the intellectual property on our battery system and advanced electronics.”
Coda is producing the batteries in China in association with Lishen Power Battery. The partners have the potential to make 20,000 units a year. Based on that volume, according to Czinger, the company would have enough capacity to one day consider selling their batteries to other car companies. That lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery, which features 728 cells, is durable enough to offer with an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
“To get the first vehicles out, we had to design the battery within the [given] vehicle requirements,” said Czinger. The Coda sedan has a four-passenger Mitsubishi chassis with a nondescript Pininfarina-designed body weighing 3,360 pounds. The Coda sedan will be built to order, so new purchasers can expect their vehicles to be delivered four-to-eight weeks after they’ve been ordered. Prior to delivery, Czinger said that Coda has an arrangement with Sears to have one of their technicians visit the new buyer’s home to determine its adaptability for installation of a 220-volt charger. He added that Sears will handle permitting and installation, an issue that has tripped up some companies venturing into the EV field in the past.
The next Coda car will be designed from the ground up as electric vehicles, Czinger promised.
Czinger also addressed the business prospects for the company as it prepares to directly compete against Nissan, Ford, Chevy and other heavy hitters in the plug-in vehicle business. While he personally was one of the early investors, Coda now has access to a “low interest bank facility” to augment its $500 million capital commitment. “This is a very capital-intensive business,” he said, noting that it can easily cost more than $100 million to design and engineer a car for US sales. But Czinger exuded confidence that his small-volume company has the cash, engineering and confidence to succeed.