Coda startup plans a mix of dealers, mall showcases
Startup automakers have been all over the map in retail strategy, ranging from company-owned stores to franchised dealers.
Now Coda Automotive of Los Angeles is setting up a hybrid of the two as it begins selling its Sedan electric vehicle. CEO Phil Murtaugh says the company wants to open 40 franchised dealerships by the end of the year -- but also will set up company-owned "experience centers" in high-traffic retail areas like shopping malls.
The key distinction? Coda doesn't plan to sell cars through the experience centers. Those locations will spread the EV gospel and schedule test drives.
"Their purpose is to educate people on electric vehicles," Murtaugh said in a recent interview. "We're not pushing sales out of the centers."
Coda has one experience center open in the Westfield Century City Mall in Los Angeles, where consumers come in with "product-specific questions and movement questions," he said. It plans to open four more centers this year: in San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago and the New York-New Jersey area.
Coda's initial franchises are with the Marvin K. Brown Auto Center, a multiple-franchise dealer in San Diego; and Del Grande Dealer Group, a multifranchise group in San Jose, Calif. The San Diego store is scheduled to open this month, and the San Jose store is to open in March.
Marvin K. Brown sells Cadillac, Buick, GMC, Saab, Mitsubishi and Fisker brands. Del Grande sells VW, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, Chevrolet, Hyundai and Kia.
Coda quietly switched from plans to use company-owned stores after Murtaugh's arrival in January 2011.
Murtaugh says Coda is targeting cities likely to be receptive to EVs. A store will need to sell 50 to 80 cars per month to be viable, he says.
"Our markets are cities, not states," Murtaugh says. "For the next several years I think electric vehicle sales will be focused in cities."
Coda will approach top-performing dealers in target markets, looking for dealers who seem pro-green and pro-EV. It aims to keep dealer numbers low initially to get to a healthy sales volume per store -- one dealer in the Los Angeles area, for instance.
After several delays, Coda is beginning deliveries of the Sedan this month, Murtaugh said. The five-passenger Sedan will have a base price of $38,145, including shipping, before state and federal incentives to buy EVs.
Coda will do final assembly of the Sedan at a plant in Benecia, Calif., in the San Francisco area. Most of the vehicle will be manufactured in China by a small automaker, Hafei Motor Co.
Coda will be at Booth 3650 during the convention to talk to dealers.
You can reach Dave Guilford at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Dave on