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Head downtown to drive green cars in LA this weekend

CODA Automotive, now based in West L.A., is among the manufacturers participating in this weekend's Green Car Ride & Drive and Dwell on Design in Downtown Los Angeles.
CODA Automotive, now based in West L.A., is among the manufacturers participating in this weekend's Green Car Ride & Drive and Dwell on Design in Downtown Los Angeles. Molly Peterson/KPCC

I spent a few hours yesterday morning at Dwell on Design at the L.A. Convention Center. Dwell on Design is a well-attended design show that's put on by Dwell magazine. What I was focused on was the Green Car Ride & Drive. I've driven quite a few cars — I used to write about the auto industry — but I've driven very few electric cars or hybrids.

So the Green Car Ride & Drive was pretty much can't miss for me. And it's definitely worth checking out. It runs through 4 p.m. today. Anyone who attends Dwell on Design can head out in front of the Convention Center and take one of numerous EVs, hybrids, and even hydrogen-powered rides for a spin.

I got behind the wheel of a Fisker Karma, one of the most expensive and luxurious hybrids on plant Earth — as well as a car created by a California company, Fisker Automotive. I also sampled the rather less expensive but no less impressive Coda all-electric car. And I finally got behind the wheel of a Chevy Volt.

The Volt and Karma share a similar hybrid drive-train technology. It enables about 40-50 miles of all-electric driving, with a small gas motor switching on to generate more electricity when the battery is drained. This extends the Karma's range to what we're used to in gas-powered cars. The big difference is in price and performance. The Karma costs well over $100,000, while the Volt goes for about $40,000, in mid-level trim packages.

Driving the Karma around a few Downtown L.A. blocks is kind of a crime, given the machine's 0-60-mph-in-six-seconds performance. The Volt is also pretty snappy, although no one would confuse it with a sports car. 

The Coda, from Santa Monica-based Coda Automotive, is by contrast optimized for navigating city streets. It's a simple, mid-size sedan, devoid of bells and whistles, based on a Chinese design and co-engineered in China and California. Range is claimed to be 125 miles, but that can vary with EVs. Interestingly, the battery wasn't engineered for optimal performance but rather duration of lifecycle. Coda owners won't be replacing their batteries for a decade.

The car itself is wonderfully simple. Straightforward instruments, basic seats, a key that you put in the ignition to start the thing (a lot of EVs use a push-button), and a ride that anyone who owns a Toyota Corolla will recognize. As EVs goes, it stands in vivid contrast to another electric car that began fulfilling deliveries on Friday, the Tesla Model S.

I liked it a lot, but then again, as much as I like high-performance cars, when it comes to everyday transport, I think simple it best.

Cars from Audi, Ford, Volkswagen, and Mercedes are also at the Ride & Drive. If you're interested in the future of mobility, not to mention the auto industry in California, it's worth a visit.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter. And ask Matt questions at Quora.

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