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.”

Kevin Czinger
CEO, Coda Automotive

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.
Coda Sedan

“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, 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.

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  • ex-EV1 driver

    “Unlike Tesla and Fisker, Coda hasn’t received big government loans.”
    … at least not from the US Government.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    ex-EV1 driver, are you saying that the Chinese government might be subsidizing Coda? Gee, what a concept. I wonder if any other governments do that.

    Still, leaving the tongue in cheek behind, the article is right that the Coda, and almost any other vehicle from any company or country, is not going to be 100% parts or 100% manufactured in its own homeland. It is now an extremely rare vehicle that everything is from its own homeland.

  • Dave K.

    And many “American” cars are made with foreign parts, even assembled in Canada or Mexico.
    It’s a global economy, get over it.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Who’s talking about foreign made parts. The article suggested that Coda might be high and mighty because they don’t have any government loans when they’re being designed, built, and mostly funded by communist China. Sure, there probably aren’t any LOANS from the Chinese government, the money is given freely.
    I understand the global economy (although I’m not ‘over it’): In the 1700’s and 1800’s, we’d import slaves from other places to do our dirty work domestically. Today, we just export the work to and import the products from places where slavery is legal. This allows us to be hypocritical and think we’re good people.

  • AP

    Lost Prius to wife, you’re right that no vehicle is 100% American, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a difference. GM employs 3 times as many American workers per cars sold in America than Toyota does. I haven’t seen numbers for Hyundai, but they employ very few Americans.

  • Scott Z

    AP why should I care GM employs more Americans per car sold? GM uses countries like Mexico to get cheap labor. How does that help America? Should I only care about humans that are born in America? I am betting Toyota uses more employees from honest countries like America and Japan then GM does. I wonder if any independent organization tracks info like that?

    That said I do not wish to buy a car that has strong ties from a country like China.

  • Nelson Lu

    Given how integrated the North American economy is, what is good for the Mexican (or Canadian) economy is good for the American economy.

  • Shines

    I have to mostly agree with ex-EV1 on this. The article sounds like Coda marketing hype. So this will be the first car that received communist government funding -oops no wait – there was the Yugo… Chinese government funding…
    Then there’s that line – 40% of the parts when calculated by monetary value are American. Hmm, so the expensive parts are American? Is that the same as saying 15% of the components when measured as a percent of physical components make up 40% of the car’s value because they were American made? Besides, what percentage of the Borg Warner parts are American made? But I don’t want to get in a debate about slavery and hypocrisy.
    Coda should be honest up front at call a spade a spade – it is a Chinese made car…
    Get over it…
    Still, I doubt I’ll buy a $40000 Chinese made car with a range of just 100 miles. It may reduce our dependency on foreign oil but what about our dependency on cheap foreign labor?

  • Rob D

    Good insightful response from ex-EV1 driver. At least I thought it was. There are no simple answers (well there are we “all” just don’t have the guts) to the global economy.

  • AP

    Scott Z, you should care that GM employs 3 times as many Americans per American car sold because only 3 types of industries add wealth to America:

    1) farming,
    2) mining, and
    3) manufacturing.

    Everything else is a service industry that creates nothing (think about what computers do – they only manipulate or makes other things more efficient). Every service job is there to support one of the above three industries, or to receive money from someone who is employed by one of those three industries.

    America is close to losing the ability to make its own products. Our trade deficit is giving huge control of America to China, a very dishonest country, and to Japan (no so honest), who has manipulated their currency and used illegal trade practices to kill off American industries (like electronics).

    Shines, your argument is why I put it in terms of American jobs. Rather than worrying about what percentage of each component is made where. What matters is that Toyota only hires 1/3 as many Americans per car sold in America. Contrary to their ads, that doesn’t sound very American to me.

  • pingnak

    GM sells most of their cars in China, at the moment. They’re mostly made there, too. They’ll be importing some of them to the U.S., soon.

  • AP

    pingnak, that point is irrelevant. Many non-Chinese companies make cars in China because it is such a big market. GM is still primarily a US company operating in China. China basically doen’t allow imports, so yes, GM builds there. GM’s plan is to make most cars where they sell them anyway, so while they may export/import some, they won’t become another Toyota.

    My is still that GM employs 3 times more Americans than Toyota for every car they sell in America.

  • 7yr Prius Owner

    So…instead of being fleeced by the Big 3 car companies for decades, and being stuck in a war over oil, not to mention the hypocrisy of the EV1 lease program…we’re going to debate over human rights issues in another company that wants to provide us an option that will, God willing, eliminate the need for fossil fuel use at the consumer level and provide a means to pull out of the mid-east for good. Do you want an all-electric car or not?!?! IF you really cared about buying something from CHINA stop going to Wal-Mart. Otherwise join me and be ecstatic that we’re going to have an option other than the Chevy Volt from a company who tried to make tree-hugger money with an Escalade Hybrid. Wake-up people! Who cares if people are being mistreated in another country? I’m sure if China had oil we would be doing something about it, but no, so unless you vote to get the same political pukes out of Washington, or pay the lobbyists to NOT manipulate the govt, get your checkbooks out for the 40 grand it’ll take to buy a Coda. All I care about is what the Coda will look like in black like my Prius. Why does it have to look like an ugly Chevy Cavalier from the 90’s? I’m almost giddy that I may not ever have to go to a gas station again other than to go to the bathroom.

  • BB

    @7ry Prius Owner: You hit the nail on the head! We need to face up to facts about the role that China will play in manufacturing our goods. That cat is way out of the bag. But every single step we take on ceasing our use of gasoline–Coda is one–is a quantum leap forward in a new positive life-affirming direction. (As opposed to more oil wars.) The Coda sedan is definitely on my shopping list, right next to the Leaf–followed by a Plug-in Hybrid Escape in a couple of years.

  • AP

    BB, if your main concern is “that cat is way out of the bag,” then we’re sunk as a country. We’ll continue to work our way down economically so that NO ONE can afford an electric car, and the masses will have to drive the cheapest thing there is: gasoline-powered cars.

    The way to do this is to make a market for hybrid/electric cars by taxing fuel more heavily (and returning that money to income tax filers). Then we could afford to MAKE THEM HERE profitably and make the US a center of fuel-efficient technologies the world would come to. It isn’t lack of engineering talent-we have better engineers in America than anywhere. It’s lack of political will to produce the right market.

  • veek

    The management at CODA is not being honest when they try to tell us this car is an American vehicle, or when they try to rationalize that “hey, everything we use is made in the People’s Republic.”

    American CEO’s would gladly manufacture products in Hell if it would add to their bonus pay, American marketers (like Wal-Mart) would gladly sell them if they could add to their profit line, and American consumers would gladly buy them if they were a couple of cents cheaper.

    Yes. let’s export our battery and car manufacturing/technology to China, where we don’t have to worry about environmental or labor laws, and where they are still dumb enough to accept dollars for now. Pollute somebody else’s environment. While we’re at it, let’s feel self-righteous about this, too.

  • Patrick Leonard

    This all electric is certainly preferable to an all gasoline vehicle, but in the same time an all electric is a mistake, similar to a bridge to far, for the following reasons:

    1)The battery needs to be very large for a significant driving range.
    2)The battery costs are then to big.
    3)Relying on electricity only is a strategic mistake in case of power grid failure (due to storm, war or natural catastrophe).
    4)An onboard generator is also useful as a cogen unit for heating.

    Those are, for the moment, the main reasons why plug-in hybrids make more sense.

  • Fred Linn

    ——–” The all-electric Coda sedan will have a range of about 100 miles—on a full charge of about 6 hours. It will sell for around $40,000.”——–

    That’s an awful lot of money for a car that can only go 50 miles before you have to turn around and go back home to recharge.

    At that rate, it would take a week to go from Kansas City, MO to Denver CO.—-assuming you could find places to recharge perfectly placed, and you didn’t have to wait in line to recharge.

    The pony express took ten days to go from St. Joseph MO to Sacramento CA, about 3 times as far in ten days. And that was 150 years ago.

    We are really making progress.