range anxiety

Coda ships first car; electric vehicle news accelerates

Coda is shipping its small electric cars to customers.

Mercedes, meanwhile, has confirmed that it will begin building an electric version of its SLS super car .

And recharging stations are popping up. Oregon's got a 160-mile section of Interstate 5 covered with eight recharging stations, enabling electric-car drivers to conquer range anxiety. Even in California's sunny and fossil-fuel dominated San Joaquin Valley, such docking stations may be on their way.

"Change is coming," writes John Voelcker, senior editor of Green Car Reports, in a piece about the declining price of electric car batteries that touched on EV trends. He advises taking the long view of the industry and forecasts a price decline in batteries of about 7 percent a year.

Developments continue

Activity in the electric car sector -- despite the lackluster sales of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf in recent months -- has been nothing short of frenetic. Automakers and parts and component manufacturers just keep announcing developments, far beyond the prototype stage. And while Coda's deliveries are about a year and a half later than initially promised, the cars are on their way to a dealer network. Tesla's also planning to bring its Model S sedan to market in big numbers next year, and its Model X SUV is in the works.

Even the resurrected DeLorean Motor Co. is back with an electric version of its flagship gull-wing "Back to the Future" car.

Now there's even an option for the person of means. Say this average high-brow consumer has a little spare cash, maybe something north of $200,000, for a unique environmentally conscious ride. The Mercedes SLS E-Cell would be the perfect selection.


Electric cars can perform

And it will be U.S. made. Brian Dodson of gizmag.com says the offering from Mercedes-AMG has been "confirmed for production in Detroit in January will be available in 2013."

Dodson says the E-Cell accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 4 seconds, just a hair shy of its gas-powered counterpart, which covers the same distance in 3.8 seconds. The e-version tops out at 155 mph, while the other can manage a whopping 197 mph.

"You will not believe the performance," says David Coulthard, former Formula One race car driver from Scotland and sometime TV commentator. That's him in the video.

Another sports car heavyweight, Porsche, has a monster of its own in development, the 918 Spyder. It boasts two electric engines, one for the front wheels, another for the back and an 8-cylinder engine. In all the hybrid offers up 770 horsepower, says Damon Lavrinc in jalopnik.com.
Smaller market larger

OK. So most people will be thinking smaller. Coda comes to mind. And the Tesla Model S does 0 to 60 mph (about the same as 100 kilometers) in 4.4 seconds.

The intent of Benicia, Calif.-based Coda Automotive appears to be the average, environmentally minded consumer who's not afraid of dealing with occasional range anxiety. The targeted consumer would see the car as a plus, a way to save gas on perhaps about 90 percent of his or her routine travel.

Ben Coxworth of gizmag.com says three buyers snapped up the Coda soon after its debut, two from the Los Angeles dealership and another in Northern California. He says the car reportedly averages 88 miles on a charge despite a maximum listed range of 125 miles.

Market for the Coda

The Coda has an understated and rather generic look, bypassing the otherworldly unique design of the Leaf and the custom and aggressive stance of the Volt. In a somewhat counter intuitive move not likely to attract a thrifty audience, the Coda has been priced at $44,900, higher than the Leaf at $35,200 and the Volt at $39,145.

"As an upstart automaker, Coda Automotive always faced an uphill fight against electric cars like the Nissan Leaf," says Chuck Squatriglia of wired.com's Autopia. "Slapping a $44,900 price tag on its forthcoming EV has made the road ahead that much steeper."

Federal tax incentives for electric vehicles shave up to $7,500 off the sales price. Residents of California can qualify for a $2,500 tax rebate through the state's Clean Vehicle Rebate Program.

EV forecast cloudy

The reign of the electric car remains somewhere in the future. Coda and struggling competitor Fisker, which also recently rolled out its first cars, don't appear likely to alter that forecast. Escalating gasoline prices enhance consumer interest, but the American public is notoriously fickle and resists change.

However, Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research projects that by 2017 "more than 1.5 million locations to charge vehicles will be available in the United States, with a total of nearly 7.7 million locations worldwide."

About a third will be home-charging units

Charging centers coming

Infrastructure to support electric cars is beginning to materialize. A $200,000 grant issued by the California Energy Commission to the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District will enable the regulatory agency to study the best locations for plug-in recharging stations and assist jurisdictions in crafting permitting processes. The Air District plans to set up a coordinating council to help promote the use of the cars in the politically and fiscally conservative region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy has offered up a new grant program intended to take a bite out the diesel and natural gas big truck market. The agency, which has done quite a bit promoting the electrification of the highways in the past several years, has made up to $10 million available to proposals that "demonstrate and deploy electric transportation technologies for cargo vehicles, such as trucks and forklifts."

The Energy Department's intention is to help reduce the nation's reliance on gasoline and diesel and diversify the nation's energy portfolio. Money would go to "demonstrate cost-effective zero emission cargo transport systems and collect detailed performance and cost data to analyze the benefits and viability of this approach to freight transportation."

Getting electric power into cargo transportation is the goal. The move, if successful, would significantly cut consumption of fossil fuels and slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Integration takes coordination

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working a different angle with similar intent. The nonprofit succeeds the Pew Center for Global Climate Change and generates analysis and seeks to find solutions to avert global warming.

The center, in the report "An Action Plan to Integrate Plug-in Electric Vehicles with the U.S. Electrical Grid," says electric cars could become an important part of the U.S. market if given "a fair chance to compete with conventional vehicles."

It proposes standardizing regulations as they relate to the electrical grid. These are multi-tiered involving everything from commercial recharging stations, home chargers and the finance of such infrastructure to protecting the grid, rate structures and encouraging beefing up the system for demand.

Jacking the grid

Between a major new source of energy consumption (electric cars) and power generation (solar, wind and other renewables), utilities will have a heck of a time sorting it all out while providing a steady stream of consumeable current over power lines. Analysts expect changes at many levels with smart grid technology emerging as an important element to maintaining system integrity.

This includes integrating smart meters, meter networking and communication, in-home energy management, demand response, meter data management, other smart grid software and services and related gear into an outdated and often overtaxed grid, according to Jeff St. John of greentechmedia.com.

"The smart grid market continues to move ... to a wide swath of new, advanced applications ranging from consumer behavior analytics, to next-gen control and protection, to greentech integration and grid optimization," St. John writes.

How all this turns out is anybody's guess. We were talking with our friends at the Air District about the subject, and the conclusion is that we probably won't be seeing noticeable change, at least in the San Joaquin Valley, any time soon.

Other stories of interest:
The DeLorean is back and this time it's electric
Electric car sales ramp up, is change coming?
Stockton electric truck company scores big with UPS