Coda Automotive partners with Chinese automaker Great Wall to develop EVs

Coda-Automotive-embarks-on-its-all-electric-California-roll-outElectric vehicle (EV) specialist Coda Automotive signed a deal with Chinese carmaker Great Wall to develop and sell more of the battery-powered cars in both China and the U.S. Coda has been selling its electric sedan (pictured) in California for a few months, while Great Wall is a newcomer to the EV scene. The companies hope to jointly develop EVs that will be sold under both brand names.

Under the new alliance. Coda will supply the batteries, motors, and any associated control systems, while Great Wall will build the cars themselves. This is similar to the arrangement Coda has with its current partner, Harbin HF Automobile Industry Group Co. Ltd., better known as Haifei. The Chinese company’s Saibao sedan is the basis for Coda’s current EV (in turn, the design is based on an old Mitsubishi). Coda says its partnership with Great Wall will not affect its relationship with Haifei.

The resulting EV will be sold as a Coda in the U.S., and as a Great Wall in China. It could be sold as either, or under a third name, in other markets. The first car from the Coda-Great Wall alliance isn’t expected until 2014. The current Coda sedan costs $38,145, before incentives, but Coda CEO Phil Murtaugh said future models will compete with comparable gasoline vehicles on price, once government incentives are factored in.

Coda would not release sales numbers for its EV, but it probably hasn’t sold many. The company’s California-only strategy was meant to refine corporate sales and customer service infrastructure, not flood the market with electric cars. Great Wall sold 500,000 conventional vehicles worldwide last year.

The partnerships with Haifei and Great Wall are making Coda into more of a component supplier than an automaker. Unlike fellow EV upstarts Tesla and Fisker, Coda seems more interested in putting electric drivetrains in other companies’ cars. In fact, Coda has a separate division for marketing electric motors and batteries to other automakers, as well as a division that makes stationary power storage units.

Coda had planned on doing some assembly work for its EVs in the U.S., put backed out when it couldn’t get a government loan. The company wanted to build battery packs, and do some final assembly work, at a plant in Ohio. It withdrew its application for a loan after the Department of Transportation slowed down processing of its advanced vehicle manufacturing loan and grant programs. Coda may still build cars in the U.S. once the Chinese venture stabilizes.

In contrast, the Chinese government has made serious efforts to incentivize EV manufacturers. The government in Shenzhen offered massive incentives to customers, and installed a network of charging stations, to develop business for BYD (Build Your Dreams)’s EVs. However, it is unclear how the BYD, or Coda/Great Wall, will do in markets without heavy government incentives. Government aid may help a company get started, but it doesn’t make it any easier to design a good car.