I tagged along for a Climate Action Network-organized field trip last week to the new CODA plant outside Tianjin, China, where some of the world’s most sophisticated electric automotive systems are now being manufactured. The Chinese word “coda” roughly translates to “new beginning,” and through a joint venture with battery giant Lishen, CODA will hit the U.S. market this year, offering the first consumer electric vehicle that achieves the holy grail of EV specs:

  • top speed of 80 mph
  • 100-mile single charge (tests show 120 miles)
  • 0-60 in about 10 seconds
It may not sound that impressive compared to a gas combustion engine, but getting an EV consumer sedan to reach these performance specs, while complying with stringent U.S. crash requirements, has pushed the industry to its limits.

The first 14,000 cars will be sold in affluent and eco-friendly California where the company hopes a $32,400 price point (after $15,000 in rebates and credits) for a rather diminutive Corolla look-alike (albeit designed by Pininfarina) will be warmly embraced.

But will it be enough to take a lead over the less expensive Nissan Leaf? The Leaf is a significantly smaller car and does not have the range of the CODA, but due to a highly publicized test project in California and the backing of a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, the Leaf is currently top of mind for consumers waiting to ditch their Priuses for an all-electric vehicle.

One thing CODA is banking on is its battery pack, which makes up a full 50 percent of the cost of the vehicle and has a state-of-the-art thermal management system that allows the car to be driven even in extreme temperatures, something the Leaf cannot do. Lith-Ion batteries, it turns out, are just like people — if they get too hot or too cold they stop functioning.

So the CODA has two independent AC loops – one for the battery pack and one for the cabin. The pack also contains a sophisticated battery management system that constantly monitors and rebalances the charge across all the battery cells. This technology allows CODA to fully guarantee the vehicle for eight years or 100,000 miles — another EV first.

The CODA website has a handy calculator that shows what kind of paybacks you're looking at. Compared to my 2005 Camry (assuming an average $3.50 per gallon), I would save about $9,000 over the eight-year warranty period. And unlike the RV prototypes of yesteryear, the CODA battery pack is engineered to last up to 250,000 miles.

In terms of energy efficiency — the manufacturers estimate that a mile driven in the CODA will have about 1/4 the CO2 emissions of mile driven in a typical gas car with none of the particulate emissions. In California, where the electrical grid carries a lot of renewables, it would be significantly less.

The result of a rare integrations of Chinese batteries in a U.S. car, the CODA could be the first truly market-ready EV sedan in the world. It will face competition — BYD, Chevy, Nissan — but with the combo of Chinese expertise in battery production and U.S. proficiency in systems integration, the CODA joint venture could pave the way for the automobile of the future.

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