By on May 1, 2013

2012 Coda EV, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesAbout a year ago Bertel, Ed and I ended up in Los Angeles for a PR meet/dine with Coda. No automotive event would be complete without a drive and our electrifying dinner was no different. Bertel and Ed wisely chose to leave the driving to me (although they did toss me in the trunk and close the lid later that evening). Since that night I have struggled to erase the Coda from my mind when today it all came flooding back. Coda has filed for chapter 11 protection. I know it’s bad form to speak ill of the departed, but this is TTAC so let’s have a review style requiem for the worst EV ever made.

Exterior

If you ordered your car by the inch, the Coda is what 176 inches of generic sedan would look like. Since Coda was a small California company without the deep pockets of Elon Musk, they did what any start-up with a screw loose would do: turn to China. Hafei was crazy enough to be smoking the same thing Coda’s dudes were, so they offered up their Saibo sedan as a donor car. Plain hardly begins to describe the Saibo. It looks like a cross between a 1990s Corolla and a 2000 Civic with some 1980s Geo tossed in. No problem, just call in a design firm. Sounds good right? They hired Pininfarina. Sounds even better, right?? Yea, except look what they came up with. Ouch. The result was a grille-free beige something that was so boring we failed to take a side-profile shot of it. You didn’t miss much.

2012 Coda EV InteriorInterior

The Saibo was based on a last-century Mitsubishi Lancer, sort of. Knowing this, I feared that the 2012 Chinese car would still be sporting a 1990s interior. Oh how I wish that were true. Instead, they attempted to “modernize” things by creating an interior that even Benz/Cerberus era Chrysler would have rejected. That’s fine when the Chinese version costs about $15,000, but with a starting price of $37,250, “bad” doesn’t begin to describe what’s happening here. The dashboard in the “production” vehicle we drove rattled and squeaked non-stop, the radio was a Best Buy special with no Coda customization, and the only “feature” touted was the leather wrapped steering wheel. In truth, the tiller was fairly pleasant to hold, except that when you moved it you were reminded it was attached to a Coda. Toss in the cheesiest gauges I have ever seen and an imitation Jaguar Drive Selector gear shifter that looked bad and felt worse and the cabin was complete. I think recalling the horror within is bringing back my PTSD, I need to sit down.

Infotainment

Seriously, they just used an aftermarket double-din radio. Check out Crutchfield for the review on that.

2012 Coda Sedan, Drivetrain, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesDrivetrain

Under the not-sexy-at-all hood of the Coda beat a 130 horsepower electric motor capable of delivering a stout 220 lb-ft of twist from zero to whenever it hit its redline (we weren’t told) through a single speed transmission. If that sounds OK, trust me, it’s perfectly fine. In fact, the drivetrain of the Coda was innovative and had nothing to do with their failure. Powering the motor was a custom designed lithium ion iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery that sported square rather than round cells for greater energy density and better cooling. The power pack under the floor was rated at 31kWh (larger than the Leaf) but because of the Coda’s weight, range was barely better than the Nissan. Unlike the competition, Coda installed an active thermal management system to keep the cells at the optimum temperature at all times to prevent the same sort of battery failures we saw on the Leaf in the Arizona desert.

2012 Coda EV on the road, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

So far, the Coda sounds like a boring little car with a bland interior, high-tech drivetrain with an advanced battery pack. In truth, the Coda sounded like a reasonable argument on paper and it looked like something you could live with in person… until you drove it. The Coda’s motor management software that had all the refinement of a science project. An elementary school science project. Acceleration was brisk but wasn’t in tune with the sloppy bumper-car pedal. As with most EVs, the Coda had regenerative braking but the system was bipolar providing either too little assist or way to much. Press the brake pedal down 10%, nothing. 20 %, nothing. 30% was where the “magic” started with the slightest resistance to forward progress. Between 31 and 40% things were peachy-keen but soggy. Press the stopper to 41% and everyone in the car will be dialing a whiplash injury lawyer.

Steering feel was horrid, but so is the feel in the Prius. Not much to say here.

2012 Coda EV, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So far everything I have described could have been lived with, you know, if someone gave you a Coda and you were unable to sell it. What absolutely could not be lived with was the ride. No 1990s Mitsubishi had a terribly polished ride to begin with, add Chinese tinkering, tinkering by a company that had never built a car before and 728 battery cells and you have a recipe for disaster. To compensate for the added weight, Coda jammed stiffer springs on all four corners and did nothing else. Crashy doesn’t begin to describe what my vertebrae felt on our 50 mile drive. If you think adding passengers would have improved things, we tried, there here were four of us in the car and we are all “American sized”.

Adding insult to injury, the EPA rated the Coda sedan the least efficient EV in modern history. No wonder they failed. Still, I’m sad to see Coda Automotive go because there will be one less voice in the EV conversation and auto journalists will have one less car to complain about. When you gathered writers together, someone will proclaim “there is no such thing as a bad car anymore.” Then somebody would remember Coda and we’d all have a good laugh before we moved back to complaining about the Prius. Now Coda is a fading memory, unless you are unfortunate enough to have one in your garage, then you won’t be able to forget. Or get it fixed. My condolences.

Coda gave me a free T-shirt at the Coda store, I still have it.

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22 Comments on “Requiem: 2012 Coda Sedan...”


  • avatar

    When Albert Lam of Detroit Electric said that they’d be buying gliders from an Asian vendor but that the cars would have brand unique styling. He didn’t say “they won’t be boring like the Coda” but he could have.

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    It seems that Coda forgot that they’re in the business of selling cars, not electric powertrain. Not sure about their electric powertrain, which was where their real expertise lies, it might as well be quite good in comparison, just packaged with a complete turd of a car.

    Might’ve successful if the product they’re selling is an electric forklift or something. But for cars, there are something called styling that plays a big role why someone would buy a car, especially one that’s much more expensive than a regular one of that size is. You could say EV is still basically a ‘lifestyle’ kind of car. Maybe they’re counting on when EV becomes mandatory? Though US citizens would riot and burn the White House to the ground before they would buy a Coda if the gov’t tried to force people into EVs, I think.

    Hopefully they’re doing better in their new business venture. Maybe once they perfected the battery and electric powertrain, and have more capital to pursue the car business again, they can try again, but use a better car as the base.

  • avatar
    AFX

    This is what happens when you name a car after a Led Zeppelin album, it’s bad Karma.

  • avatar
    myheadhertz

    Damn. Just as I was about to quote your radio comment you did an edit. (Still, I wish more cars came equipped with a generic double din radio.)
    Great review.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    You’d think sourcing so much in China would have resulted in a lower price, instead of higher than a top-end Leaf built in Tennessee.

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      Yep. Coda was dead on arrival.

      It compared unfavorably on almost every axis with the LEAF, which shipped approximately 18 months earlier.

      * more expensive (though Coda cut prices significantly before shipping)
      * less efficient (similar range even with a larger battery)
      * less safe
      * uncertain reliability, especially re: battery cells
      * terrible interior
      * terrible controls
      * excessively plain (LEAF is at least interesting, even if you dislike the aesthetic)
      * non-existent dealer network
      * non-existent service network

      It did have the fastest AC charger available in the non-Tesla lineup .. for about two months, until the Focus EV shipped.

      It also had a significantly more capacious battery. If you planned to use the car for grid storage (perhaps its best role, given driving reviews), this might be your best option.

      Coda also actively cooled their battery with forced air. Potentially a good design choice.

      Still. With it launching late, overpriced, and underqualified, Coda had no real chance.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Another unfortunate “black eye” for the EV effort. I dunno, the looks could be forgiven, even the high price if the car had reasonable competency as a *car*. Which is why the Tesla Model S and the Nissan Leaf are true accomplishments – they’re the bookends of the EV spectrum right now; one exciting and expensive, the other eminently practical and affordable, and both useable by those who realize the ridiculous amount of energy it takes to move us from one place to another. For petrol people, EV’s garner complaints of “limited range”, and “wow, ten hours of charging for two hours of driving”, etc., but many forget that fossil fuel is “a gift from the creator” that allowed us to advance our society to this point, but along the way, we never appreciated how much energy that it contained until we find that the alternatives are noticeably worse.
    When faced with these constraints, we are encouraged to examine our lifestyles, how much energy it takes to just “take a Sunday drive”, and it makes us uncomfortable. Thus, EV’s are co-opted by both sides of what is becoming an increasingly political issue, which is a shame, because efficiency and the wise use of resources are the real issues here.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Historically, the “wise use of resources” had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with price or other economic considerations. For example, consider that, during the 19th and early 20th Centuries, steam-powered ships used coal as a boiler fuel. Especially for Britain – the world’s leading maritime power at the time — coal had the advantage of being indigenous to the British Isles. However, a British Admiralty Lord who later became famous determined that the energy density of oil was much higher than coal, and therefore oil-fired British warships could travel farther without refueling if they burned oil to produce steam. So, he ordered British warships converted to burn oil, even though oil was not indigenous to Britain.

      Fast forward a few decades to the United States. For similar reasons, railroads began converting steam locomotives to burn oil, rather than coal. However, shortly after that — and probably thanks to development of the technology for submarines in World War II — diesel electric technology because available for locomotives. It turned out that burning the oil in a diesel engine was about 3 times more efficient than burning it to boil water, even allowing for the conversion losses associated with using the diesel engine to turn an electronic generator to power the traction motors rather than connecting the engine directly to those motors.

      All of this wise use of resources was accomplished without a government regulation in sight, based on factors like price and utility.

      Politically-driven mandates about what constitutes wise use of resources are only occasionally “wise.” The emission accounting system applied do cars does not capture, for example, the emissions of the power plant which generates the electricity powering electric cars. Nor does it capture the pollution and hazardous waste generated by the manufacture and disposal of these cars once they are “used up.” Consider, for example, in the technology industry, the conversion of video displays from CRT technology to LCD and plasma has generated a massive amounts of disposed CRTs, which have lead in them (to absorb the X-rays that CRTs generate and protect their users). Lead is nasty stuff to dispose of. So are the heavy metals in the batteries used by EVs and hybrids.

      Right now, most of the public does not find that an EV is a wise use of their resources . . . so by what right does a group of know-it-alls tell the public what to buy, either directly or indirectly by massive subsidies (like the $1B for Nissan’s EV plant in Tennessee)?

      • 0 avatar
        wmba

        Exactly. A good historical perspective.

        Been saying it here for ages to a resounding lack of response. When you use the electricity grid to charge a battery, you expose yourself to the inefficiencies of power stations mixed in with hydro, nuclear and wind power. Then there are the inefficiencies of charging followed by the inefficiency of the electric motor/controller.

        Despite this, the shiny happy people in government disregard everything but the electric/motor inefficiency. They then issue e-mileage ratings like 99mpg-e for the original Leaf, assuming that somehow a shiny, pollution-free kWh has been miraculously transferred to the vehicle’s battery.

        It makes my blood boil. It also shows utter disregard for anything resembling the truth. Politicians are generally not scientists or engineers, nor do they seem to have any common sense. So the shiny happy eco-types working as bureaucrats in government who are as lacking in scientific analytic skills as their elected bosses, are able to get the politicos to push electric cars on an unsuspecting public. All obfuscated as a way to limit oil imports. Yet to the general benefit of Big Coal, and the liability of power station emissions.

        But who cares? Shiny happy people stand by shiny happy new EVs in shiny happy photo ops, and proclaim they are saving the world. Based on absolutely diddly squat.

        The internal combustion piston engine is an amazingly efficient converter of chemical energy to mechanical work, when constrained to operate in its most efficient regime. It is far better than the electricity grid/EV model.

        That leads in engineering terms to a system that allows a piston engine operating over a limited rev range of high efficiency to seamlessly power a vehicle over a widely variable speed range. It means HYBRID. Electric or hydraulic energy storage as a buffer between engine and road wheels through innovative transmissions.

        People deride hybrids by looking past the engineering to the vehicle itself. Priuses are numbnuts cars to drive: ergo, hybrids are crap. Period. Shows the average level of technology awareness of the general public, which frankly is zero. Zip. Nada. And no interest in learning, either.

        Hybrids are the most efficient way to go for future vehicles. PHEVs are NOT. They use dirty electricity from the grid. They are another shiny happy people distortion of common sense.

        If people think I’m wrong, I invite you to PROVE it. No special cases like “but I’ve got solar panels on my roof”, “elecricity rates are cheap in my area” (so what, that’s beside the point of the scientific argument), etc. It just means you don’t understand the main argument.

        For now, the shiny happy people are in the ascendant. Arrayed against them are the great mass of people, suspicious of change. Nowhere these days is there any great mass of rational people, who, when they say something, face ad hominem attacks, strawman arguments, the utter irrationality of undereducated people content to rely on old wive’s tales and myths. From both sides, and happy to attack based on nothing but emotion.

        It was ever thus.

        • 0 avatar
          protomech

          “Hybrids are the most efficient way to go for future vehicles.”

          Depends entirely on the grid makeup.

          Toyta Plug-in Prius is a good example, as it can operate in a SOC-sustaining closed-loop gasoline cycle or in a pure EV mode.

          CO2 is a good baseline comparison metric, generated in operation either by directly combusting gasoline or combusting the natural gas and coal that make up the majority of the grid. Note that distribution and refining for both gas and the grid inputs (nuclear fuel, coal, natural gas, etc) are not considered.

          50 MPG with gasoline. Combusting gasoline produces 8.92 kg CO2/mile. So the Prius is 178g CO2/mile when directly combusting gasoline.

          29 Wh/100 miles with grid energy, at the wall outlet.

          When you plug in an electric car today (or put any additional load on the grid), if the grid aggregate demand rises then non-baseload generators kick online and start burning fuel. These are mostly coal and natural gas generators (but can be stored energy, mostly hydro). US average for 2009 is 1.55 lbs CO2/kWh = 0.706 kg CO2/kWh.
          http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/documents/egridzips/eGRID2012V1_0_year09_GHGOutputrates.pdf

          So using a national average for non-baseload, Prius is 205g CO2/mile when operating on grid energy.

          In order to “beat” gas, we need < 1.35 lbs CO2/kWh.

          About half of the grid regions beat or are very close to this non-baseload rate (within 10%). There are a few notable outliers (both well above and well below).

          Notably lower:
          AZNM (Arizona, NM) 1.19 lbs/kWh
          CAMX (California) 0.993 lbs/kWh
          ERCT (most of Texas, surprisingly) 1.16 lbs/kWh
          NEWE (New England east of NY) 1.16 lbs/kWh
          NYCW (NYC) 1.12 lbs/kWh

          Notably higher:
          HIMS, HIOA (Hawaii) 1.62 lbs/kWh (HI is almost 100% oil)
          MROE (East Wisconsin) 1.87 lbs/kWh
          MROW (Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa) 2.11 lbs/kWh
          RFCE (Pennsylvania, Maryland, etc) 1.63 lbs/kWh
          RFCM (Michigan) 1.83 lbs/kWh
          RFCW (West Virgina, Ohio, Indiana) 2.00 lbs/kWh
          RMPA (Colorado, Eastern Wyoming) 1.76 lbs/kWh
          SPNO (Kansas, W Missouri) 2.15 lbs/kWh
          SRMW (E Missouri) 2.20 lbs/kWh
          SRSO (AL, GA, part of LA) 1.62 lbs/kWh
          SRTV (TN, KY, part of N AL) 1.92 lbs/kWh
          SRVC (Carolinas, S VA) 1.68 lbs/kWh

          Speaking broadly, the inland regions near the Rockies and the Appalachians are typically coal heavy (and markedly less efficient for EVs). The west coast, northern east coast, and Texas tend to be natural gas heavy (and markedly more efficient).

          Today, a plug-in Prius is more efficient (in terms of CO2) operating off grid energy for a significant portion of the US population, but certainly not all. Making a blanket statement either way about the current efficiencies of EVs vs hybrids is probably a mistake.

          However, the real advantage of EVs lies in the future, as the grid becomes more renewable and as EVs can feed energy back into the grid.. essentially acting as energy storage when parked (typically 80-90% of the day). Doing this allows more baseload power (largely nuclear) and intermittent power (solar, wind) to come online and be used effectively.

          If you look at annual total grid output (not non-baseload), the majority of the country is more efficient on plug than gas.

          And that's the (as yet undelivered) promise of EVs. Cleaner than hybrids, significantly less complex to build and operate, great potential for grid storage.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            Well considered – the grid *will* get cleaner, thus so will EV’s. Thanks for the work writing all of that up.

        • 0 avatar
          SoCalMikester

          Whatever research they do to make money off EVs gradually trickles down to consumer electronics, which helps ALL of us. Unless you dont have a cellphone, MP3 player, laptop, digital clock, etc.

          And unlike the HDTV mandate the government issued, which did a great deal in leading to those mountains of CRTs, the gradual acceptance of hybrids is hopefully leading to a slow ramp-up to effective recycling.

          Hopefully, that is, because i havent looked into whats really happening to those 1998 Prius battery packs.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        Well, I feel like a child, sitting on a thickly carpeted floor, being schooled by a man perched in a leather chair, pipe in hand, explaining “That’s how it was, and that’s how it’s going to be.”

        Many thanks.

        “Happy Shiny People” – holy $hit man, issues?

        Humanity will advance, like it or not, but probably not soon enough.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        Traditional use restriction in Britain were found in trees. First, a panic when yew trees were disappearing and with them the famous longbows. Second, when English oaks threatened to take the “oaken walls of England” with them.

        By the time coal became an issue, the sun wasn’t setting on the Union Jack.

        Back around the first turn of CAFE, the US could have chosen wisely. Instead we faked around with CAFE (which was designed more to defend the truck market and enforce market segmentation. No more big V8s for the common rabble) and let Saudi Arabia control oil production and prices. I can only wonder what the justification of the latest round of CAFE is, presumably just congress flexing their muscles.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      “When faced with these constraints, we are encouraged to examine our lifestyles, how much energy it takes to just “take a Sunday drive”, and it makes us uncomfortable”

      As an engineer in the energy business, this is an illegitimate fear, one that few if anyone I know shares with your. What you are told about the supply of oil on earth by the mainstream is an absolute lie, oil renews itself at a fairly rapid pace such that you shouldn’t worry about such rubbish.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Is that renewal rate higher or lower than the acceleration of the usage rate?

      • 0 avatar

        The supply we have now is being propped up by tar sand processing becoming economically viable. We’re certainly having to hunt much harder to find oil .. it’d be awfully convenient if it would renew itself at a fairly rapid pace closer to the surface and not under a mile of seawater.

  • avatar
    brid1970

    What made Miles Automotive, the former parent of Coda, fall in love with the Hafei Saibao III sedan in the first place? Afterall its manufacturer was a state-owned aircraft company that never put enough attention into marketing to reach even a 1,000 units annually. The comparable flaws-galore F3 of BYD left it in the dust numbers wise.
    Hafei located in China’s rust belt of the Northwest did however have the skillset to build cars, and when I first saw it in 2006 at the Beijing Auto show, its quality stood out from the crowd, especially the F3 (apple of Warren Buffet’s eye). So much so that the colorful David Shelburg made an attempt to bring it to the U.S., and PSA Peugeot/Citroen China even made overtures to Hafei for a joint venture. But Avi China, in a move to get back to the business of flying machines, gave it up to acquisition by Chang’an Auto, which until now has done little to exploit the aforementioned talent. But I must say that I liked the ole Saibao three box, as Pininfarina, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Shelburg, Peugeot/Citroen, and Miles did and yet could never understand why Coda hadn’t opted for its successor the Saibao V, a more attractive variant.

  • avatar
    ByTheLake

    I wonder if the roughly 100 Codas built to date will become “collector’s items”? I can imagine that they’ll be difficult to service at some point. Regardless, the desirability of a Coda is quite low, so I’ll assume that in spite of the rarity, these will not be collectible either.

  • avatar

    The car looks like crap, but if you staple a sexier body to it, improve the braking and steering it could work.

    PERSONALLY, I don’t see the point of regenerative braking. Since Regenerative braking can’t ever recharge the battery to 100% of its capacity, what’s the point? Doesn’t the mass of the components waste more energy than produced?


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