While it looks like you can officially order Nissan’s all-electric LEAF this Tuesday, there’s another all-electric car option coming to market soon — within months — from startup Coda Automotive that’s promising a longer, more reliable, range. In an extended interview at Coda’s headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif. last Thursday, Coda CEO Kevin Czinger told us that Coda will start delivering electric sedans to customers in December, and he said the Coda Sedan can get 40 percent more driving range than the LEAF under most conditions. Czinger also told us that Coda just last week passed a crucial phase in its DOE loan application, and that the company is also in the process of raising another $125 million round of financing, with participation by Morgan Stanley (s MS).
While the deep-pocketed Nissan has been ramping up an all-out marketing bonanza around its LEAF (see the latest commercial here), which will be the first mass-produced all-electric car on the market, Coda — a venture-backed three-year-old startup — will be raising funds and also kicking its marketing and outreach into high gear over the next three months. Coda and Nissan have vastly different origins and some different intentions, but it’s easy to start making comparisons between their inaugural cars, given they are the first two all-electric mainstream-targeted cars on the market.
LEAF vs Coda Sedan
Czinger says Coda plans to sell 14,000 of its electric Sedans — 7,000 to consumers and 7,000 to fleets — between December 2010 and the end of 2011, and the company is only focusing on the California market for those initial cars. Coda plans to sell the sedan in the low- to mid-$30,000 range with federal and state incentives, and Czinger says Coda will announce final pricing on the car over the next few weeks. The Coda Sedan will likely be priced a tad higher than the Nissan LEAF, which has a price tag of $32,780 before incentives, but Czinger emphasized to me that he didn’t think the initial group of buyers for all-electric mainstream cars will be super price-sensitive.
Nissan — Japan’s third largest automaker — has been targeting sales of 6,000 units for the LEAF in Japan and aiming to bring in 25,000 reservations for the model in the U.S. before it launches in select markets, including Arizona, California, Washington and Tennessee. Nissan has also said it has an output capacity of 10,000 units for the business year ending in March 2011, but there’ve been reports that only 3,300 Nissan LEAFs will be delivered in the U.S. by March 2011.
While the Coda Sedan will probably cost several thousand dollars more than the LEAF when final pricing is announced, Czinger says that the range, the reliability of the range, and the thermal management system of the battery for the Coda Sedan are superior to the LEAF. The Coda Sedan can deliver between 90 to 100 miles range according to the US06 driving test, which has an average 48 miles-per-hour driving speed, says Czinger. In comparison, the LEAF is touting a 100 mile range based on the LA4 driving test, which Cziger says “is not a realistic test for the consumer.” Under the LA4 test, the Coda Sedan gets 120 to 130 mile range, says Czinger: “So apples to apples, we probably have under most conditions 40 percent more range than a Nissan LEAF.”
Czinger says the range of the Coda Sedan holds up to that 90 to 100 mile range despite extreme hot and cold weather because of its high-volume, air-cooled, battery thermal management system. In comparison, Czinger says the LEAF can get as low as a 40 mile range in extreme hot and cold weather because of its lack of a sufficient active thermal management system for the battery pack. Czinger says:
I think our range is the minimum real usable range that you’d want in an initial all-electric car if you’re going to meet consumer needs. If you don’t have an active thermal management system to provide that range dependably, I think you’re going to have consumers that are unhappy.
Tesla Motors (s TSLA) CEO Elon Musk has expressed a similar sentiment about the LEAF battery pack thermal management system, and said on his company’s earnings call earlier this year that the LEAF has a “much more primitive level of technology” compared with the sophistication of even Tesla’s first prototype. As a result, Musk said the LEAF pack will have temperatures “all over the place,” causing it to suffer “huge degradation” in cold environments and basically “shut off” in hot environments.
Coda’s sedan also has a 34 kwh battery, while the Nissan LEAF has a 24 kwh battery. Czinger notes that means Coda’s sedan has 40 percent plus more available energy than the LEAF.
Coda Road Map
Coda is betting that consumers and fleet owners will recognize what it says is a superior technology as having an edge in the market. The company has spent three years developing the battery, the battery management system and the chassis (frame) of the car around an electric vehicle. Other car companies are leaning more heavily on traditional internal combustion-based cars for the chassis for their EVs. Coda has often been described as a spin-out from Miles Electric, and while Coda was born out of the Miles team, Czinger describes Coda’s emergence as coming out of a stealth project that had been incubating within Miles for years.
The company’s other bet is on China; Czinger said he’s taken 31 round trips to China over the last three years. To get the cost of the battery cells down considerably — to enable it to sell an EV in the mainstream price range — Coda has created a joint venture with China battery maker Lishen, called Lio (oil spelled backward). Coda and Lishen agreed to invest $100 million in their venture, and said they’ve received a commitment for a $327 million line of credit from the Bank of Tianjin Joint-Stock Co. Czinger says that Lio owns the intellectual property for the battery cell production, but that Coda has retained all rights to the advanced thermal dynamics and battery management system.
Coda has also been amassing hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. Czinger tells me that on top of the $125 million in funding that Coda has already raised — including backers like Aeris Capital and Singapore-based EDB Investments — it’s in the process of raising another $125 million in financing with participation from Morgan Stanley. Overall, with its various funding commitments, Coda will have raised in the range of $600 million said Czinger.
Coda also submitted an application for low-interest federal loans from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program (headed up by Jonathan Silver, who we interviewed for this Q&A) earlier this year to help it build lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles in Ohio. Electric vehicle startup competitors Tesla and Fisker already received DOE commitments for loans. Czinger told us during the interview that Coda had just gotten word from the DOE that its loan application had advanced to the next level.
With its funding commitments, its Chinese battery partner and its close-to-production-ready vehicles coming soon, Coda is following in Tesla’s foot steps as a startup that will actually be putting a considerable volume of electric vehicles on roads. Coda will likely be the first startup to sell a mainstream — $35,000 to $45,000 — all-electric vehicle. Tesla is still two to three years away from that point.
If Coda can deliver on its promises over the next four months, get ready to hear a lot more about this up-and-comer. Down the road in 2013, Coda is targeting a cheaper, roomier, all-electric 5-passenger sedan that it says will be one-third of the weight.
We’ll bring you our latest Green Overdrive video episode of the Coda Sedan on Wednesday of this week, so stay tuned!
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