Monday, April 12, 2010

CODA Automotive -- electric cars for the rest of us?

Many early adopters of technology tend to be wealthy individuals who was less affected by the going rates for these new technology.

For example, many individuals paid a premium to drive the first mass production hybrid, the Toyota Prius.  These individuals love being on the cutting edge and making a political statement.  What they failed to realize is the premium they paid to be one of the first to own such vehicles will never be paid back by the fuel savings they would have experienced.

These individuals (as financially unsound as they may seem) are important to the development of any new technology because they help finance the high cost of developing a new technology before it reaches scale.  Along with government incentives and tax credits, automotive technology that has virtually remained the same since the first Ford Model T rolled off the assembly line has now in these past few years transformed completely.

Why did the basic engine design, and propulsion technology, for these cars remain so similar since it's inception?  The real answer is the infrastructure that supports it.  Prior to automobiles, it was mainly horses and carriage.  These self sufficient modes of transportation required only oats or hay and water to drink.  When the automobile came along it took some time and large government intervention to get it widely accepted. Gas stations had to be built across the United States that were previously not available.  In addition, roads had to be built as well.  One other advantage of internal combustion was these vehicles can be refueled relatively quickly.

Electric vehicles have been around for a very long time.  In fact, one of the first vehicles ever built was an electric vehicle.  Because of the weight of the batteries, the duration of the charge (which translates to miles driven), and the time it takes for the batteries to recharge, the electric vehicle quickly fell out of favor. We as consumers were willing to put up with the constant oil change, repairs, and maintenance needed in order to have the longer range and flexibility that comes with internal combustion.

More recently, as the dot com has come and gone as well as the continued evolution of computer technology, and in turn affiliated technology.  As gas prices continue to increase and the ability of batteries to hold charges become longer, we have now turned back to looking at electric vehicles to free our dependence on foreign oil.  Current electric vehicles are mainly, and structurally, very similar to over-sized R/C vehicles.  Benefit of these cars become apparent very quickly.  Most of these vehicles only run on 1-gear. Besides for the limitation on range, these vehicles have very little moving parts and therefore have little to maintain.

The Tesla Roadster is a prime example of another take on the electric vehicle to meet the needs of the early adopters.  The car was designed to compete with exotics -- mainly because the technology and manufacturing process needed to produce these vehicles at a profit dictated the price range.  Electric vehicles do not need to rev up to full power, and has 100% of their torque immediately from 0 (this is also why a Toyota Prius, operating on only it's electric motor, can beat a 911 off the line).  Because of this, the basic nature of electric vehicles lend themselves very well in the super car market. The body of this vehicle was subcontracted out by Lotus.  The vehicle is gorgeous, fast, and handles well (for it's weight).  The power source of the vehicle is a bundle of Li-Ion batteries that takes overnight to charge.  At the time of it's introduction, Li-Ion batteries were still fairly expensive to produce and limited to small cell phones and computer appliances. 

As production starts to scale and learning were extracted from the initial production (funded partially by wealthy individuals paying over $100,000 per Tesla Roadster), designs were drawn for a much more practical, and cheaper sedan alternative for the more affluent, but not filthy rich crowd.  The Tesla S was born.  This vehicle was priced at $40,000-$60,000 and is meant to compete in terms of build and quality/ luxury for potential BMW 5-series and Mercedes Benze E-class owners.

Today, I have found a vehicle that may be designed for the rest of us.  The CODA

The design of this vehicle is nothing to write home about.  The vehicle looks frankly like a KIA or Toyota Corolla.  The benefit to the masses would be the value of the vehicle.  If priced appropriately, I believe this vehicle can single handily help us move away from our dependence on foreign oil.  This is because not only would the CODA appeal to our political nature, but most importantly our financial nature.  People will buy the vehicle because it is cheap to buy, simple to maintain, and cheap to run. It is hard to argue with the numbers.

If this vehicle is priced to be the same as a Toyota Corolla or Honda Fit, why would you buy a vehicle you would have to constantly change the oil, replace worn parts, and fill up with gas vs. a vehicle that you just plug in at night.  In essence, this can be the replacement as the commuter for a lot of individuals.  Over a period of 1-year, you can save thousands on fuel costs alone.  Of course, there is limited range, but 100-miles should be more than enough for anyone's daily commute. 

Now if this vehicle is priced at $30,000 or more.  We're kind of screwed, again.

Unfortunately, until this technology is scaled to the point where it is readily and cheaply available to the masses, we can only continue to hope our dependence on oil will decrease.

1 comment:

  1. There are other options appearing now, such as the Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi iMiev. The Leaf is priced at $25,000 after federal tax credit and less after state incentives.