Green

EV maker Coda Automotive speeds ahead with $58M, but can it catch its competitors?

The green car industry seems to be splitting into three tiers, the top being dominated by big traditional automakers like General Motors and Nissan; the second being owned by ambitious and much-hyped contenders Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive; and the third belonging to the many smaller ventures hoping to level up, like Th!nk, Zenn Motors, Zap! Electric Vehicles, and — perhaps holding the most promise — Coda Automotive.

A spinout from electric fleet vehicle maker Miles Electric Vehicles, Coda is doing its darnedest to make its way into the same ranks as Tesla and Fisker. And with a new $58 million in third-round capital announced today — bringing its total to $125 million — the company has a better shot at that than ever.

Compared to its top competitors, Coda has hardly been in the news at all, remaining mostly mum about its all-electric sedan, even though it expects to launch the car by the end of this year and sell 14,000 before 2012.

By contrast, Tesla Motors has been very vocal about its impending Model S sedan, its search for a major manufacturing facility (which it plans to pay for with its $465 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy); and Fisker has been just as loud about the roadmap for its plug-in Karma luxury sports car (which it also plans to launch in 2011), and its so-called Project Nina, a line of more affordable vehicles due out in the next two years.

Despite its relative secrecy, Coda seems to have a lot in common with these companies. Just as Tesla has relied on Lotus to build its unique chassis, Coda enlisted the help of both Porsche Engineering and China’s Hafei Automotive Group to devise the design of its sedan.

Today, the car is said to have a driving range between 90 and 120 miles, and the estimated price tag is slightly above $30,000 (including government rebates, which are said to be bringing down the price of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf from $33,000 to below $20,000 in some states).

The $125 million the company has sunk into the sedan doesn’t count the $394 million its joint battery making venture with Lishen Power, dubbed Lio Energy Systems as a separate entity, took in at the end of March. It’s also expecting up to $500 million from the Chinese government to support manufacturing and marketing in Asia.

Aptly, Coda also plans to set up a facility in Singapore to develop develop cars specifically targeted at the Asian and European markets.

The most recent round of funding came partially from Singapore-based EDB Investments, but was led by Aeris Capital, which is based in the U.S. and Switzerland.