Remember EV Automaker Coda? No? That’s Probably Why They Just Filed For Bankruptcy
Photo courtesy of autoblog.com
Coda Holdings, LLC has announced that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to focus on energy storage; its Coda Automotive division, responsible for selling its sole EV sedan, will be shuttered in the process. That’s fantastic, because the cars were practically dead on arrival.
Coda premiered its Chinese-built 4-door at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2010. I remember heading to their booth, my curiosity piqued as I saw the suspended nameplate of a new marque, and the semi-enclosed booth that housed its prototype. That curiosity was soon followed by disappointment as the car entered my field of vision. My 1994 Toyota Corolla looked overstyled in comparison, but Coda was attempting to corner the supposed budget EV market on the idea that consumers were looking to jump ship from fuel-burning automobiles so quickly that the would buy just about anything. The difficulty with attempting that task is so monumental and expensive that even established automakers don’t sink money into going after the low-end EV market, not to mention new startups. The Coda sedan also had a base price between $35-40,000 dollars and the 31kWh electric motor only had an effective range of 90 miles. All of that inferior technology was wrapped in an underwhelming skin from a brand new company with no competitive edge to speak of, and it isn’t hard to see why Coda couldn’t sell its sedan.
Like the Fisker Karma, Coda was beset by production delays , so even the meager number of preorders weren’t filled until March 2012, nearly a year and a half after the sedan was initially slated to go on sale. Those early adopters were rewarded with a recall due to improperly installed airbags.
Unlike Fisker, Coda’s primary problem wasn’t production delays, but consumer tastes. Fisker’s delays cost them loans from the U.S. government that were needed to jump start production of the midsize Atlantic; when the funding was frozen , Fisker had only the slow-selling Karma to offer to high-end clients. The destruction of dozens of Karmas during Hurricane Katrina sped up Fisker’s demise. Coda, however, was not beholden to tagret-based loan programs, but its funding was squandered making a car that nobody wanted. For $10,000 less, one could buy the perennial best-selling Toyota Prius, and since American buyers are so concerned with image (especially in California, the only state Codas were sold), what was the point of buying a dowdy sedan just to say it ran on electricity? If we assume that a Prius averages 45mpg (a conservative estimate), and gas is $4/gallon, a Prius driver can go 11.25 miles for $1. So even if electricity is completely free, a Coda driver would have to drive 112,500 miles before his or her car becomes cost effective compared to the king of hybrids.
But wait, what about the Tesla Model S? They are extraordinarily expensive EVs that cost at least $62,000, so where is the value? The Model S competes in the midsize segment, and the $88,000 Model S Performance accelerates faster than a slightly more expensive BMW M5, and you don’t have to fill it with expensive premium gasoline at a rate of 17/22mpg city/highway. The value is obvious: the Model S is a well-appointed luxury car that has decent acceleration at all levels and can go between home and grocery store without filling up the batteries for 10 hours. All of that, and it is priced competitively with the rest of the segment. Coda’s sedan had no competitive advantage, no magnetic CEO, and no marketing budget to even let people know they exist.
While it is a shame to see another automaker fall by the wayside, it is hardly surprising to see Coda go. The car suffered for years, languishing in pre-production while the rest of the world passed it by, and when the Coda was finally put into production, it struggled against even the slowest-selling EVs like the Nissan Leaf. The car looked like something Suzuki would have made in the early ’90s, and it was powered by a battery pack that would have been uncompetitive with the unit found in the General Motors EV1. Rest in peace, Coda, we hardly knew ye.