Coda Automotive, which plans on bringing a Chinese-American electric car to market in a few weeks, has swapped its CEO.
Kevin Czinger resigned by mutual consent, the company said. Steve Heller, co-chairman of the company, will serve as interim CEO until a replacement with deep experience in mass manufacturing and logistics can be found. Coda execs will speak at The Networked EV taking place in San Francisco on November 9. (Execs from Tesla and Panasonic, which recently invested $30 million in Tesla Motors, will also be there.)
CFO Mark Jamieson will also take on the additional role of COO, the company said.
Coda said the transition was part of a long-term plan, which makes sense, but the timing seems a tad rushed. Heller, after all, is only an interim CEO. No permanent replacement has been found. The announcement came out Friday night at 6 p.m., hardly prime time.
But most importantly, Czinger, who came to the company in 2008, was synonymous with Coda's surge. The company was originally part of Miles Automotive, a relatively small manufacturer of low-speed electric vehicles whose offices were located at the tiny Santa Monica airport. Under Czinger, a star college athlete and a Goldman Sachs alum, Coda began to raise large amounts of money and forge stronger bonds with the Chinese government and even with U.S. officials. The company has raised over $125 million. Investors include former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, another Goldman Sachs alum, and John Bryson, a leading figure in alternative energy. Tom Friedman recently lauded Coda. The touch of the New York Times columnist, arguably, can come with a bit of a curse. Friedman also lauded Applied Materials' amorphoussolarstrategy before Applied 'fessed up to major problems and cancelled its SunFab line.
China's government and Chinese banks, meanwhile, have agreed to financially support Lio Energy Systems, the battery company that will supply the battery packs for Coda's Sedan.
The sedan, due toward the end of the year, will cost $45,000 before incentives. Federal and state incentives could bring the price down to $32,500. That's more expensive than the Nissan Leaf, which will sell for close to $33,000 before incentives, and more than the $41,000 Chevy Volt. Coda's car has a larger battery -- 33.8 kilowatt hours compared to 24 kilowatt hours for the Leaf -- but Nissan has an established brand name. Coda has been running ads in major markets but doesn't have nearly the name recognition. The company's ability to sell a car at those prices has been an ongoing question.
Is Coda a Chinese car or not? Czinger and I debated that back in March. The car is based around a gas-burning car on the roads of Beijing right now. It will also be manufactured in China. Czinger, however, pointed out that the car is based around a design from Japan and has been retrofitted by U.S. engineers for U.S. specifications. The battery venture is owned by Coda and Lishen Power Battery. But again, U.S. engineering and components play a crucial part, and the joint venture is planning to build a battery pack facility in the Midwest if it can get a DOE loan. If it does, Coda could become one of the first companies to enjoy the hefty financial support of both the U.S. and Chinese governments.
I asked car reviewers what they thought. One called it a Chinese car. Another didn't.
It's CEO resignation season: Jack Bolick of Adura Technologies and Brent Contstantz at Calera recently left, while Lunera got a new CEO.