Coda Automotive CEO Kevin Czinger

Coda Automotive CEO Kevin Czinger

On Wednesday, we covered the news that Coda Automotive will offer a $45,000 all-electric four-door sedan for sale in California, starting in the autumn of 2010.

The car project and the company were formerly part of Miles Automotive, which sells small, slow, plastic neighborhood electric vehicles. This car, however, is their first highway-capable product--and it may also be the first Chinese-made car sold in the US.

Yesterday, we had a chance to chat with Coda Automotive CEO Kevin Czinger.

Why rename the company Coda Automotive, and what's the model name?

Kevin Czinger: We brainstormed a new brand to distinguish us from the low-speed vehicles sold by Miles, and we liked the sound and look of 'Coda'. It gives the idea of something that's separate, complete by itself, and independent. The notion is that it completes and perfects something that came before it, which is the gasoline-engined car. As for the model name, it's the Coda Sedan.

In November, you said the first cars would go to customers in Spring 2010. Now we're hearing autumn of that year; what happened?

Kevin Czinger: Our first test fleet of 200 to 300 vehicles will actually be on the road in June 2010, so we haven't really slipped. The consumer models will be available that fall. But we now have a final, hard schedule with all of the manufacturing, production, and assembly processes synched up together. The biggest single schedule item turned out to be validating the advanced airbags; we still need to crash another 30 cars or so.

What kind of reactions are you getting to the notion of a Chinese-built car?

Kevin Czinger: People need to be rational. There are lots of Chinese parts in their cars already, never mind in products outside the auto industry. One hundred percent of Apple products come from China. Of course we're super aware that what we do has to be the highest quality. We have Porsche Engineering involved in supporting this program; believe me, they know what they're doing in that regard.

What kind of progress do you see for Coda's electric cars by, say, 2020?

Kevin Czinger: We'll see battery life rise from today's 150,000 miles to half a million, maybe even 1 million miles. We plan to do a lot more with the company and the brand. We'll have different, purpose-built vehicles, including some really cool-looking ones. They'll have lower mass, much better aerodynamics, and we're getting geared up to build them--not necessarily with the same manufacturer. But right now, let's build and sell this one!

As venture capitalists might say, what's Coda Automotive's "special sauce"?

Kevin Czinger: We manufacture the complete battery system with our partner Tianjin Lishen, and we're involved at every level, from manufacturing each cell at very tight tolerances, the module packaging, the battery management system software, thermal management inside the pack, every single facet of designing an energy system. If you want to be great, you have to integrate across the entire process, from design to manufacturing.