An Electric Car With Chinese Roots

Add one more to the growing list of small private electric-car companies: Coda Automotive, a new brand started by Miles EV, a company that’s been selling low-speed electric vehicles from China for about four years.

The Coda sedan was unveiled last week in Santa Monica, Calif. It is based on the Saibao, a gas-powered car built by the Hafei Automobile Group, a state-owned company in China. The chassis was originally developed by Mitsubishi (which licenses it to Hafei). According to Coda, Hafei sells 200,000 cars a year and has delivered more than a million units since it was established in 2006.

Coda addressed Chinese quality questions by giving the Saibao a big makeover. The electric version had a front and rear redesign by Porsche, a partner, as well as considerable re-engineering to accommodate the battery drive and meet United States safety standards. “We think we have the right combination of existing automotive know-how and a mass-manufacturing partner,” said Kevin Czinger, Coda’s chief executive. Other suppliers include Delphi and EnergyCS.

Mr. Czinger said the core of the Coda is an lithium-ion battery system developed in a joint venture with the Tianjin Lishen Battery Joint-Stock Company, a supplier to Apple, Motorola and Samsung. Mr. Czinger said that the Coda’s 700-pound, 33.8-kilowatt-hour battery pack is purpose-built for auto applications, with 728 cells (compared with more than 6,000 in the Tesla Roadster) in modules of seven. The battery joint venture will be 40 percent owned by Coda and 60 percent by Lishen.

Coda said the new sedan would have a cruising range of 90 to 120 miles and a recharging time of less than six hours from 220-volt service. Zero to 60 will take less than 11 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 80 miles an hour. The purchase price will be $45,000, and buyers could receive a $7,500 federal tax credit and state incentives.

On Monday, Coda said it was applying for an undisclosed amount of Department of Energy stimulus funds to build a battery plant in Enfield, Conn., as part of a joint venture with Connecticut-based Yardney Technical Products, which makes aerospace batteries. According to William Yalen, a program manager, Yardney has conducted research on automotive applications, but has not built auto batteries. He said the Enfield factory was scheduled to be operating next year.

Coda may be a small company, but it has big ambitions. The sedan will be introduced next year in a dealer-free, California-only marketing strategy that will depend on the Internet to get the word out. Test rides will be available. The company said it will have the capacity to build 2,700 cars in 2010 (starting in June) and 20,000 a year starting in 2011. That, of course, would be quite an ambitious number for an electric start-up.

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