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Santa Monica-based Coda plans to begin selling all-electric sedans like this one by December. Thanks to its bigger battery, the Coda Sedan will have a range of 90-120 miles on a single charge. (photo by Photo Courtesy Mike Ditz)

DOWNTOWN — Right now, electric car company Coda is a startup in an unproven industry whose employees are still settling into its new headquarters at Broadway and Ninth Street.

But to hear Coda CEO Kevin Czinger tell it, the company is on the verge of something big.

Czinger predicts Coda will sell 14,000 of its all-electric compact sedans next year — an impressive feat for a company that didn’t exist three years ago.

Coda plans to begin shipping vehicles this December, making it among the first to market with an all-electric product aimed at the mainstream California consumer.

Powered by a lithium-ion battery pack — basically a mega-version of the electricity source used in smart phones and laptops — the Coda Sedan has technology that means drivers don’t have to give much up to go electric, according to Czinger.

With a maximum range as far as 120 miles — and plenty of pep — it’s not a specialty vehicle for a sliver of the population, he said, but an environmentally superior alternative for just about any urban commuter.

“This is not a new car introduction, this is a new technology introduction,” he said.

It’s the company’s hope that reaching a tipping point is only a year or so away.

Once 10,000 of the vehicles are on the road, Czinger said, “It’s at that point that you really change the game.”

From day one, though, the virtually unknown brand will be going up against at least one giant competitor in Japanese auto maker Nissan, which plans to begin delivering its own battery-powered car — the Leaf — by the end of the year.

Czinger said there are several factors on Coda’s side.

Thanks to its bigger battery, the Coda Sedan will have a range of 90-120 miles on a single charge — longer than the Leaf’s 60-100 mile maximum, he said. And a unique “thermal management” system, he said, insulates the Coda Sedan’s battery from the elements, giving it a reliable range, no matter what the weather conditions are like.

Despite its bigger battery size, the Coda Sedan also powers up faster than the Leaf, the company says, with an onboard system capable of fully charging in six hours, and able to take in enough juice for a 40-mile commute in about two hours.

With a price tag of $44,900 before federal and state tax credits are applied, though, the Coda Sedan retails for about $12,000 more than the Leaf, which has a base price of $32,780 in the U.S. (For California residents tax rebates could reduce the Coda Sedan’s cost to $32,400).

While Coda’s brain power is mostly concentrated in Santa Monica, for now the car’s parts are manufactured all over the world, with the pieces coming together at an Oakland-area plant. (The batteries are currently made in China, though the company is in negotiations to build a $700 million battery making facility in Ohio, Czinger’s home state.)

Like Nissan, Coda is already accepting deposits online for its first generation vehicles. Its long-term retail plans, though, don’t have anything in common with the traditional car dealership model. Rather than leasing large showrooms on auto rows, the company plans to market the cars at “Apple-type stores” located in malls, including several in the L.A.-area. Once the retail operation is up and running, a small number of vehicles will be available for test drives at mall locations.

Already, the company has won an early fan in City Councilman Terry O’Day (not that he’s put down a deposit or anything). O’Day, who worked in the burgeoning electric car industry in the 1990s before major auto makers shut down their all-electric lines, said the fact Coda chose Santa Monica for its headquarters is a sign the city’s reputation for environmental friendliness has appeal to green manufacturing companies.

“Are they going to build a GM Tower in five years in Santa Monica? Probably not, but I think it says a lot about Santa Monica that they want to locate their business here,” he said.

nickt@smdp.com

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