It was unsurprising to read the article in the Los Angeles Business Journal a couple of weeks ago about how L.A.’s Coda Automotive had brought on an investment banker to consider its financial options, which could include bankruptcy reorganization.
It was unsurprising because, well, have you seen the Coda? I mean, that car is to “style” what Rosie O’Donnell is to “swimsuit model.” A review in Automotive News a few months ago said the car is based on the company’s “interpretation” of a 1990s Mitsubishi Lancer. Nothing quite like a ’90s vintage Mitsubishi econobox to rouse the creative fires of automotive design geniuses.
It says here in the Business Journal article that Coda started selling its electric sedan a year ago and so far has sold 100 of them, but I’m wondering if that’s a misprint. A hundred cars? How could they have possibly sold so many?
The problems with electric cars are numerous and well documented. Still, people are willing to overlook a lot of them because electric cars are a greener, more eco-conscious way to get around.
But alas, even that is coming into dispute. About twice as much carbon dioxide is produced to make an electric car than a standard gasoline-powered one because of the huge batteries, according to Bjorn Lomborg, who is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center in Washington. In fact, when an electric car is rolled off the factory floor, it’s like you’ve already driven 80,000 miles.
Once it’s on the streets, an electric car produces less carbon than a gasoline car, but not as much as you might think. That’s because it needs electricity, which is generated mainly by burning coal and natural gas. In California, we think of green solar-produced electricity, but worldwide, solar accounts for a flyspeck – 0.1 percent of all electricity produced, Lomborg said. That is expected to increase – to only 0.6 percent by 2035.
(Lomborg recommends that instead of buying an electric car, the eco-conscious should get a small, gasoline-powered car and look for ways to rely more on public transportation.)
I said a minute ago that the other problems of electric cars are well documented. That doesn’t imply they’re insignificant.
For one, they’re expensive. The base cost of a Coda is about $38,000 or about the starting price of Mercedes-Benz. For another, there’s the limited range. A fully charged electric car could give a typical Angeleno one to three round trips to the office. But it takes the Coda 30 hours to recharge from a standard wall socket. You could get a super charger installed in your house, but that’s another big cost.
And then there are problems with the cars themselves. That Automotive News review said the Coda’s build quality and materials were substandard. “Interior plastics, for instance, looked and felt cheap.” And they weren’t exactly pulse-quickening performers on the road. “At freeway speed, loud road noise was worsened by the shrill whine of the electric motor.”
Electric cars might be a good option some day, probably after a technological leap or a big change in the market. But for now, they should be an experimental project under the umbrella of a big car company – like Nissan with its Leaf. Not under a small undercapitalized company with one model, no dealership network and no captive lease provider.
You would hope that officials at the city of Los Angeles would have thought about a couple of those things – or just looked at a picture of Coda’s car – before committing 800,000 of the taxpayers’ dollars to lure Coda’s headquarters to Los Angeles in exchange for a promise of 650 jobs. Jobs that probably will never be created.