For the Coda, a Preface in Washington
September 16, 2010
By MATTHEW L. WALD
After you build an electric car, the next step is to sell it. So Kevin Czinger, the president and chief executive of Coda Automotive, trucked his from California to Washington this week to try it out on the General Services Administration, the purchasing arm of the federal government.
The G.S.A. said this month that it would try to reduce its carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2020 and therefore wants to buy plug-in hybrids. In theory, an embrace of electric cars would slash emissions. The Coda is supposed to go nearly four miles on a kilowatt-hour; at the average electric generating station in the United States, that would mean emitting about 0.375 pounds of carbon dioxide a mile. A car that goes 22 miles on a gallon of gasoline is responsible for emissions of about 1 pound per mile.
The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, both due out this year, would have about the same carbon footprint per mile as the Coda running on electricity; the Volt is intended to run on gas after the first 40 miles it covers each day.
Mr. Czinger’s entry is a little bigger than the Leaf and roughly the same size as the Volt. It is a five-seat sedan built on a Mitsubishi chassis yet reinforced with 200 pounds of high-strength steel to give it a five-star crash rating. The front hood, rear deck and some other elements were designed by Porsche Design. The car is available in plain vanilla colors — Pearl White, Metallic Silver and Metallic Black — but a customer can add accents or logos so that it can scream that it is an electric car.
The one he was driving around Washington was white with a black hood and trunk lid and “Coda” written all over it, including the forward-facing sides of the side-view mirrors. “The interior and the trunk are the size of a Camry, plus or minus,’’ Mr. Czinger said.
In a ride around the District of Columbia, the Coda’s 134-horsepower motor showed some zip. It has no engine noise, but it does have a fan that manages the temperature of the battery pack.
The vehicle’s “thermal management” keeps the batteries at a good operating temperature so that it can run well in all weather, Mr. Czinger said. But in cold climates where people use block heaters on conventional cars, they might want to plug this one in, too, he said. The fan also allows the car to accept recharging very quickly – two and a half hours for enough energy to go 35 miles or so.
Under the little door where an ordinary car has a gasoline filler pipe, this one has the female portion of a plug arrangement that accepts a cable of the 220-volt variety, the power level used for an ordinary oven or dryer.
The prototype Mr. Czinger brought to town has black plastic under the hood that covers most of the electronics. But in the production version will cover everything except the filler pipe for the windshield washer fluid, he said. There is no oil or antifreeze to check; like a piece of home electronics, it has no user-serviceable parts.
The company has built around 70 and crash-tested around 40 of those, he said. The first customer deliveries are planned in mid-December, he said, and the company hopes to sell 14,000 in the first year.
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