Geography, Oil and the Coda Electric Car
The Coda all-electric sedan, due late this year, is the underdog in the race for an affordable mass-market pure electric car. As a start-up, it doesn’t have the financial and marketing resources that Nissan and General Motors are putting behind the Leaf and Volt. Unlike Tesla and Fisker, Coda hasn’t received big government loans. So, Coda is playing the role of a small, smart and scrappy start-up electric car company, using every means possible to bring a practical petroleum-free car to the United States
“The auto industry is a global industry…It is less a matter of geography and more a matter of what firm has control over process and quality.”
Fans of electric vehicles, and supporters of good old-fashioned American entrepreneurialism, might celebrate Coda’s rugged and independent approach—but that’s being undermined by questions about the manufacturing origins of the Coda sedan. Critics say the car is manufactured in China, so it’s a Chinese car. Full stop. Forget for a moment that nearly every manufactured good we use today comes from China. An analysis of the nationality of the Coda is complex—considering the global nature of the automotive industry.
Connect the dots:
- The car is adapted from a gas-powered car from Chinese state-owned Hafei Motor Co. The chassis of that car was licensed from Japan’s Mitsubishi.
- The Coda visual design comes from Pininfarina, the legendary Italian sports car designer. Coda’s US engineers put in more changes in order to meet US performance and safety specs. Other design aspects came from global automakers, such as Porsche.
- About 40 percent of the components in the car, when measured by monetary value, come from US manufacturers, such as Borg Warner.
- The battery inside Coda’s sedan comes from a joint venture owned by Coda and China’s Tianjin Lishen Battery Co. The electronics for thermal and battery management of the pack were designed and will be produced in the US and shipped to Asia.
- The car will be built on assembly lines in China, with Coda engineers remaining full-time on the manufacturing floor to oversee production.
“Maybe ten percent of the original [Chinese] design is left. Otherwise, the car has been completely redesigned,” said Kevin Czinger, Coda CEO, in an interview with CBS News. “The auto industry is a global industry. Many components are from China already. It is less a matter of geography and more a matter of what firm has control over process and quality.”
Czinger said that Coda didn’t go to China just for low labor rates, but to use existing production lines rather than spending hundreds of millions of dollars to build manufacturing capacity from scratch. It was a make or break decision for Czinger. In an email to HybridCars.com, he wrote, “The decision Coda had to make was whether to build a safe, affordable , all-electric car or not. The reality is that there is no volume battery manufacturing in the US today.” Czinger believes that Coda’s joint battery venture allows the company “to get to market quickly while building a balanced industry in both the US and China.” Coda’s goal is to accelerate the adoption of electric cars everywhere, not just the United States.
Balancing Act: US Jobs and US Oil Independence
In the end, Coda’s global manufacturing process will become less important than the quality and capabilities of the product resulting from that process.
Coda is promising to deliver a moderately priced, well-designed, safe, highway-capable, all-electric four-door sedan—a feat not yet achieved by any US-based start-up company.
If Coda succeeds, and earns a loyal group of American drivers, the mixed heritage of the Coda sedan may become irrelevant—especially when you consider that Coda’s car runs without using a drop of gasoline. That represents a small but important step toward reversing America’s severe economic and geo-political dependence on oil.