Coda’s first battery packs will store about 34 kilowatt-hours of electricity and will be made up of 728 battery cells with lithium iron phosphate battery electrodes, which are known to be safer than conventional lithium-ion electrodes. (Chrysler and BYD, another Chinese automaker, plan to use the same chemistry as Coda.) The cells are packaged inside rigid metal containers, which could prove more durable than the flexible pouches being used in battery packs being developed for electrically driven cars by GM and Chrysler, according to Vince Yavoli, president of one of Coda’s partners, Yardney Technical Products, based in Pawcatuck, CT. Czinger says that the packs can be completely charged and discharged at least 1,500 times, and will come with an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
The first battery cells and packs will be built in China, but Coda and Yardney have applied for funds from this year’s federal stimulus package to build a battery factory in the United States. Yardney is a longtime battery supplier to the U.S. military, and the maker of the batteries that power the Mars rovers. Yavoli says that the company has developed proprietary electrolyte additives that can improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries at extreme temperatures for future versions of the battery pack. Czinger says that this and other enhancements could help increase the number of cycles that the battery will last.
However, some experts are skeptical that Coda will be a success. If the Coda sedan sells for $35,000 after government incentives, that’s still $15,000 more than a comparable gas-powered sedan. According to market-research firm Synovate, very few people are willing to spend more than $6,000 more than a conventional vehicle for an electric car, even if the car could save thousands more in reduced maintenance and fuel costs. (Coda claims that the car will save about $10,000 in five years.) Tim Englehart, vice president at Synovate, estimates that the market for cars with more than this premium is “in this economy, maybe, if you’re lucky, a couple of hundred.”
What’s more, Englehart says, “by the time it comes out, there’s going to be quite a lot of competition out there.” Major companies such as GM, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Subaru have announced plans for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, which use little to no gasoline for daily commuting. GM’s Volt plug-in hybrid, for example, is slated to go on sale in November 2010. Smaller companies such as Tesla Motors, which already makes an electric sports car, and Fisker Automotive will also begin offering luxury electrically powered sedans soon, with Fisker’s plug-in hybrid due out later this year. These luxury electric vehicles may do better than Coda’s sedan, because their price should be closer to that of similar conventional luxury vehicles, Englehart says. Alternatively, many customers may be drawn to Toyota’s gas-electric hybrid, which uses very little gasoline and sells for about $20,000, says Menahem Anderman, an automotive battery industry analyst. Englehart says that Coda could have a better chance at success if it sells its battery packs to established car makers, or sells its cars under the name of another, more recognized, automaker.