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A Bare-Bones Electric Car That Goes the Extra Miles

THE driving distance for electric vehicles priced near the heart of the new-car market — starting around $35,000, before federal tax credits and other incentives — is defined by cars like the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric. Each of those models, when keeping pace with a typical mix of traffic conditions, will drive about 70 to 80 miles on a fully charged battery.

So the introduction of a similarly priced electric sedan that delivers a consistent 100-mile range represents something of an industry milestone.

Credit for that advance, confirmed by my week of driving to business meetings and family outings around the San Francisco Bay Area, goes to a Los Angeles-based electric-car start-up, Coda Automotive. The company put its first model, a sedan that carries an official range rating of 88 miles per charge from the Environmental Protection Agency, on sale last March.

As the first journalist to spend quality time with the company’s single vehicle available for review, I set out on trips that I would never take in the leased Nissan Leaf I usually drive. One weekend I took my wife and two teenagers to Bolinas Beach, about 25 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. We made that drive, a 79-mile round trip from our home in Berkeley, in comfort, using the Coda’s ample trunk to stow our gear.

The 134-horsepower motor proved sufficient for highway needs. The 870-pound battery pack, mounted under the floor, lowers the center of gravity to help maintain competent handling of the 3,670-pound sedan along twists and turns. When we got home, nearly 20 percent of the battery’s charge remained.

Replenishing the lithium-iron-phosphate battery with the Coda’s 6.6-kilowatt onboard charger restored about 20 miles of range each hour — about twice the rate of my Leaf — drawing from a 240-volt source. The next day, I traveled on business to a meeting in Silicon Valley, tallying an impressive 102.8 miles, with a few miles’ charge left in reserve.

To achieve this feat while keeping costs under control, Coda focused its efforts on the systems that manage battery power, outsourcing the car’s body (and battery cells) to China; other components come from American companies. The car is adapted to E.V. duty from a gas-powered model manufactured by ChangAn Hafei in Harbin, a provincial capital in the northeast corner of the country. Final assembly takes place in Benicia, Calif.

Coda says that its redesign of the body structure resulted in the first made-in-China passenger car to meet highway safety standards in the United States — an achievement that may presage the arrival of conventional gas-powered Chinese cars in this country.

The company even brought its chief executive from China. Coda hired Philip Murtaugh in 2011, a former top executive at the Chinese operations of General Motors and Chrysler


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