The end of 2010 is seen by many in the automotive industry as the first hurdle for many budding electric car companies. By the end of 2010 both Chevrolet and Nissan will have plug in vehicles on the market, both at prices that will outcompete much of the competition.

For the smaller automakers specialising in electric vehicles, beating much larger companies on price is unlikely. The only option then is to win the race to market.

But are such companies really fighting on equal ground? Or are they delusional?

Enter Coda Automotive. Until recently, the Southern California-based startup appeared to have very little to show for its promises to bring a highway capable EV to market in 2010.  But recently, the company has started to produce more information about its all-electric 2011 Coda Sedan - a car it claims to bring to market by the end of this year.

Talking to Greg Migliore from AutoWeek.com, Coda's senior vice-president of sales and distribution Mike Jackson eagerly shared Coda's secret weapon in the electric car sales wars.

According to Jackson, a former General Motors marketing executive, the secret to the $40,000 2011 Coda Sedan doesn't lie in a large range. It lies in complex thermal management.

The Lithium-Ion battery packs used in some electric cars are notoriously susceptible to heat variation. Packs which are too hot or too cold under-perform and in some cases, reduce pack life.

When the Coda Sedan's battery pack is below optimum operating temperature, heating elements warm the pack. When it is too hot, the pack is cooled to optimum temperature.  This thermal management system ensures that the car's 33.8 killowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack performs at peak efficiency.

And according to Jackson, it's this management system which gives the 2011 Coda Sedan a competitive edge.

"When we talk about 120 mile range, we've got a proprietary thermal management system, that wether you're in Northern Minnesota or you're in Palm Springs, California - independent of the environmental conditions - that range is going to be very dependable and consistent"

The lack of thermal management in the 2011 Nissan Leaf recently attracted criticism from larger-than-life CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk.

So, does the 2011 Coda Sedan offer any more unique selling points? When asked, Jackson cited the car's ample luggage space and five seats. Hardly unusual in the latest range of electric cars, we feel. Admittedly, the car's built-in 6.6 killowat charger is worth a mention, eliminating the need for external chargers and allowing the Coda Sedan to charge from any 120V or 240V outlet.

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - under the hood

2011 Coda Sedan prototype - under the hood

What we find interesting is the way the car will be sold. Unlike the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt, which will be sold in dealerships throughout the U.S., the Coda Sedan will be sold primarily online.  While select locations will have cars  available for customers to view, the order process will still take place online, eliminating conventional dealers.

With a purchase price estimated at $45,000 before federal tax credits are applied, the Coda Sedan is hardly cheap.

While it does offer an alternative full-size, highway capable EV to the marketplace, we're still dubious that the company can make good on its promise to be selling vehicles by the end of 2010. For a start, very few test-drives have been offered and we have yet to hear anything about federal crash test results.

One thing is clear though: With the larger automakers now all keen to peddle their own electric vehicles, Coda's 2011 Sedan will need to be an amazing symphony of automotive engineering in order to beat the Nissan and GM in sales and reliability.

[Autoweek.com]