CODA Hopes to Change Car Buying with Chinese Electric Vehicles

A California car company, CODA, is betting that it can change the car-buying habits of American drivers by offering plug-in electric vehicles manufactured in China and doing so in a decidedly non-traditional environment-like shopping malls.

This fall, CODA opened its first American showroom, smack dab in the middle of the Century City Shopping mall in Los Angeles. The company hopes its sleek, environmentally-friendly storefronts will do for electric cars what Apple stores has done for iPods-turn them into hip, must have consumer products.

“We’re thrilled to be opening our first CODA Experience Center in such a consumer rich environment,” says Phil Murtaugh, CEO of CODA Holdings. “We want to open dialogue between consumers, provide a stress-free purchase experience and ultimately accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).”

While CODA is an American company, the company’s electric cars will be manufactured in China, with a Mitsubishi chassis and Chinese-made lithium ion batteries. The cars are then imported to California, where some finishing assembly is completed before they are delivered to the new high-tech retail showrooms. The CODA will have a suggested retail price of just under $45,000.

The flagship retail store includes an interactive area to explain electric vehicle technology, a full-scale model of the car’s battery and power system, and on-site test drive opportunities based out of the mall’s parking garage.

“We won’t start our retail sales through a traditional dealer network,” says Murtaugh, a veteran executive formerly with Chrysler . “It will involve setting up company-owned sales outlets. They will be in high visibility areas with lots of traffic where people will be able to walk in or make an appointment online to test drive vehicles. Customers will be able to configure their vehicles, and place orders online. This will be a no-haggle buying experience. That’s shown to be very, very successful with other brands.”

Another of the company’s initial sales strategies is to get its electric cars into the hands of drivers through fleet sales to car rental customers. Hertz has announced that it will begin to offer CODA’s plug-in vehicles to customers this year, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car will soon have 100 or more of the CODA EVs available for rent as well.

CODA faces an uphill climb in a market that has not exactly been sizzling so far. Both General Motors and Nissan have reported significantly lower-than-expected sales of its electric cars, the widely-hyped Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.

“Our plan is to go slowly,” says Murtaugh, who may find that-despite his splashy entrance into the market-he has no choice.

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