Between the "production adjustment" (i.e., delay) and the recent resignation of CEO Kevin Czinger, you might think that things are looking down for Coda Automotive. You'd be wrong. At least, the message we heard from the LA Auto Show, where Coda finally has its first major auto show presence, is nothing but onwards and upwards.
The highlight of the company's booth, unsurprisingly, is the $44,900 all-electric sedan, which is now scheduled to arrive in the third quarter of 2011, with customer and journalist test drives taking place in April. The car on display is a bright canary yellow with mean black wheels, is surrounded by what the company is touting as a "zen meets tech" theme. Anyone who visits the booth during the show this week is getting a preview of what the company's first store will look like when it opens in Los Angeles in March 2011, Sean Blankenship, Coda's senior vice president of marketing, told AutoblogGreen. Blankenship said the store will be a way to "translate the brand identity into a physical environment."
Ever since the production delay was first discussed internally – something that happened just three to four weeks ago, Blankenship said – the company's marketing team has been looking forward conducting more marketing research to make sure that the company produces vehicles with exactly the right colors and interiors that customers want. "We can't afford to do the traditional OEM push, just load the lot full of cars with silver, white, whatever," Blankenship said. "We can't afford to build a car that somebody is not going to buy." Read on after the jump to find out what else Coda can't afford to do (hint: it's screwing up the debut of Coda's one and only vehicle).
Live photos copyright ©2010 Sebastian Blanco / AOL
Since Coda is putting all of its eggs into one sedan-shaped basket, getting it right is a priority. This is the message that both Blankenship and Steven "Mac" Heller, Coda's interim CEO, delivered to AutoblogGreen. Heller said the 6-8 month production delay will give Coda a chance to refine its deployment strategy and to make 100 percent sure that the production plan builds in multi-week buffers so the tooling and other parts of the production process can be adjusted if needed. As Darryll Harrison Jr., Coda's director of product communications, told AutoblogGreen, "maybe the original plan was a little aggressive and didn't allow for the extra time."
Heller said the delay, "is perhaps an excess of caution to handle any issues that may come up." An example of such an issue is to "job balance" the 100+ work stations on the assembly line. Job balancing mean to make sure all every station can finish its tasks in roughly the same amount of time. Heller said this is a totally normal process and clarified that the line has been job adjusted before. "It has not emerged that there are job balancing issues," he said. "What we've done is build in enough time to make these adjustments if they are necessary." Crash testing, too, is moving along, Heller said, confirming that over 40 vehicles have been crash tested by an outside lab at Coda's request and the company has also done some computer modeling. "We are on schedule and on time with the crash testing and this will be an extremely safe car for consumers," he said.
As for the quality of the electric sedan, Blankenship said Coda is shooting for the same level of fit and finish that you would see in a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry. On top of this, Coda is introducing a unique buying experience with the Coda Valet, which Coda describes this way:
As Blankenship said:The day you purchase your CODA Sedan you will be assigned a CODA Valet, a personal assistant to help with all things CODA. The Valet will also be your main contact as long as you own your vehicle.
If needed, your CODA Valet will assist you with the electrification of your home, which includes an initial assessment, any necessary permitting, and the installation of your Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) by a trained professional. The CODA Valet will deliver your vehicle to your home when it's ready and show you how to properly operate it.
Additionally, your CODA Valet will provide guidance related to any problems you may experience. When service is needed, your CODA Valet will schedule appointments with authorized CODA Service Centers and will pick up your car, take it to the service center, and return it to you good as new.
We're not just bringing a new technology to market, we're bringing a car to market with new technology, we're bringing a new buying experience and we're bringing a new service experience, so it's a lot of heavy lifting.
The delay also means that Blankenship can conduct December marketing research panels and get more data to define what the first production vehicles will look like. Again, Coda wanted to make it clear that work like this was done in the past, they are just giving themselves more time to get things right for the launch. No one would tell us exactly what it was that caused the electric Sedan to be delayed, just that things will be better this time around. Blankenship said Coda first did market research in November 2009, for example, but now, Blankenship can do more:
I want to get the mix right, I want to understand how that mix is being received by consumers. That's going to be hugely important over the next month. ... There are things we can pull from our competitors, too. It was real interesting to me that a majority of the pre-orders on the Leaf want silver. That's fantastic for me to know that.