By JOHN O’DELL June 7, 2011
The engineer who helped develop BMW’s iconic Z8 sports car and the upcoming Fisker Karma extended-range plug-in hybrid has joined fledgling electric vehicle-maker Coda Automotive as chief engineer. Thomas Fritz, a 23-year auto industry veteran with stints at Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln, Range Rover and components supplier Magna International in his resume, will be senior vice president of engineering at the EV automaker and its parent, Coda Holdings.
Fritz is the first major new hire at Coda since the company brought in former GM China chief Phil Murtaugh as its new CEO in January. In addition to further refinement of the Coda electric sedan, whose launch was delayed by Murtaugh after he reviewed the car and decided it needed more work to be competitive in the U.S. market, Fritz is expected to work with Coda Holdings on its lithium-ion battery development programs.
In a statement issued this morning, Fritz lauded Coda both for its electric propulsion system development and the work it is doing on development of battery-based stationary energy storage systems. He left Fisker about three months ago as the Karma engineering program he headed drew to a close. The $95,000 low-volume sport sedan is now in production with deliveries to customers expected to begin next month.
Battery Work Promising
The Coda sedan, which would compete in the higher-volume compact segment , faces a rough road in a highly competitive automotive market that is unforgiving of new players that try to challenge the established brands, but its battery engineering work holds a lot of promise. With utility companies under tremendous social and government pressure to use cleaner sources of energy, including renewables such as hydroelectric, wind and solar power, the use of lithium-ion batteries to store such energy is a hot new field.
Coda Holdings has partnered with a Chinese battery developer, Lishen Power Battery — controlled by the China National Offshore Oil Co. — to develop lithium batteries for automotive use and also for storing renewable energy. Numerous energy companies are testing such devices because renewable energy sources aren’t constant — the sun doesn’t shine at night, when lots of solar power could help keep cities lighted and wind often blows at night, wasting energy that could help keep factories running during the day.
Additionally, automakers look at use of lithium batteries for stationary energy storage as a method to extend the lifespan and help lower the cost of electric and hybrid vehicle batteries, which typically have plenty of storage capacity remaining even after they are no longer suitable for automotive use. An energy-sector aftermarket for used EV batteries would help automakers recover the tremendous initial cost of their plug-in vehicles’ batteries.
Separately, Coda said it has won more than $800,000 in incentives from the City of Los Angeles to relocate its headquarters and design and engineering facilities and 126 staff positions from Santa Monica to nearby West Los Angeles if negotiations for the building are successful. The company said it needs more space as it consolidates its facilities and prepares to ramp up staffing for the launch later this year of the Coda electric sedan.