FIRST RIDE: 2011 Coda Sedan Electric Car

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2011 Coda Sedan prototype - side

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - side

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It's not every day that the CEO of a car company takes you for a ride. Especially if it's through the move-it-or-lose-it traffic of midtown Manhattan. In the rain. But Kevin Czinger seemed to enjoy it.

We covered the 2011 Coda Sedan all-electric car when it launched three weeks ago. Now we've had a ride in a development prototype driven by CEO Czinger, with product engineer Dave TenHouten riding along in the rear.

First impressions:

  • STYLING: The Coda has better street presence than photos show, but it's hardly cutting edge. We're still undecided on the blank, grille-free front end. Style could be a drawback for buyers, who Coda thinks will move up to a full electric car from hybrids like the Toyota Prius.
  • PERFORMANCE: In cut-and-thrust New York City traffic, Czinger had his foot in it and the car kept up just fine. We can't comment on highway performance; the most we saw was about 45 mph (yes, the Manhattan speed limit is 30 mph).
  • SEATING & INTERIOR: The front seats were comfortable for our 20-minute trip, though surprisingly low to the floor. The beltline is low too, so visibility was fine. The rear had enough leg room for TenHouten, who's a full-size adult male human. Styling and plastic quality was acceptable, though more like Kia than Cadillac.
  • INSTRUMENT PANEL: Czinger emphasized that the hard plastic dash and instruments were left over from the Chinese-made Hafei Saibao on which the Coda is based, not those of the production car. The new dash will include both digital instruments and advanced airbags, which had the longest lead time of any component. The company must still crash another 30 or so cars to validate them.
  • REFINEMENT: The din of New York exterior noise was fairly well suppressed, though some electric motor whine was apparent. A remarkably noisy heater/air-conditioner pump would be replaced in production cars, said Tenhouten.
  • BUILD QUALITY: This is the biggest question for Coda: Can Chinese-designed and built cars offer the high standards of design and build quality that Western buyers require? Panel gaps were wide but consistent, and we can only say nothing fell off during our tenure in the car. We look forward to crawling over, under, and through a production Coda Sedan.
  • SUMMARY: This first Coda may never attract fashion-forward car buyers, but the greenest of Southern Californians likely look for different qualities in carbon-free cars.
  • PRICE: A list price of $45,000 seems absurd for a not-very-stylish compact car, but the Coda is eligible for a $7,500 Federal tax credit. The state of California may add its own credit as well. A top-of-the-line 2010 Toyota Prius now runs $35,000, so Coda believes it will be competitive enough to attract hard-core green buyers to its first offering.

We were able to follow up on our previous interview with CEO Kevin Czinger and dig deeper into how he sees the car market evolving. Money quote:

When you see consumer innovation happening, you need only one robust instance of a product--look at the Apple iPod, look at the Toyota Prius--to prove the market.

I think we won't need that many incentives to kickstart the market. Innovation will be very, very rapid.

We've now driven prototype EVs from many makers: a 2011 Chevrolet Volt mule, the 2012 Nissan EV prototype, the 2012 Ford Focus EV prototype, and the disappointing Mini E.

How does the Coda Sedan measure up? If the build quality is good enough, we think Coda may be able to sell up to 10,000 cars a year. That's the point at which Czinger says Coda Automotive will make "a tremendous profit."

We hope to bring you driving impressions of the 2011 Coda Sedan within a few months.

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - with CEO Kevin Czinger

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - with CEO Kevin Czinger

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2011 Coda Sedan prototype - charging socket

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - charging socket

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2011 Coda Sedan prototype - front

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - front

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2011 Coda Sedan prototype - production vehicle will have a different dash

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - production vehicle will have a different dash

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2011 Coda Sedan prototype - interior

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - interior

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2011 Coda Sedan prototype - rear

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - rear

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2011 Coda Sedan prototype - under the hood

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - under the hood

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2011 Coda Sedan prototype - front

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - front

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