Coda EV Recall Hints at Big Sales Problem

By · August 27, 2012

Coda Grass Station

Coda Automotive covered a gas station with artificial turf earlier this month. The company can produce cool marketing, but has fundamental problems with its sole product.

A small recall should be relatively good news for any automaker. Sure, there’s a problem that needs to be fixed, but at least millions of dollars won’t be needed to rectify the problem on thousands of vehicles. That line of thinking doesn’t apply here, however, since Coda Automotive’s recall of 78 electric-powered sedans hints at a much bigger problem. The low recall figure suggests the California-based start-up has not yet sold 100 vehicles,
after about five months on the market.

You have to wonder about the point of Coda's elaborate marketing stunts like covering a California gas station with sod earlier this month. Maybe they can convince some people to hate gas stations, but it's an empty gesture if they can't offer a reliable and desirable car at a decent price.

The Root Cause of the Problem

The recall itself is due to faulty side airbags, which according to the NHTSA, might not inflate during a collision. "Certain 2012 model year CODA vehicles may have this condition. There are no known injuries related to this recent discovery," Coda reported in a statement addressing the issue. "CODA Automotive holds itself to the highest safety standards and continually strives to offer the most reliable product for its consumers." Those 78 owners are invited to contact their local dealer or the automaker directly.

The problem should be fairly straightforward to fix. A bigger challenge is increasing consumer confidence in the relatively unknown brand while, at the same time, boosting sales and improving build quality. Coda Automotive has struggled to gain traction in the rapidly evolving electric vehicle market against mainstream rivals like the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF. Those two vehicles benefit from greater name recognition and, based on initial reviews, superior refinement and dynamics—though the Coda has been lauded for delivering a solid 100 mile driving range.

The Coda electric sedan’s exterior has also been criticized for looking bland and outdated, especially considering it carries a substantial base price of approximately $38,000 (before Federal and state tax incentives are considered). The basic structure of the car is based on an existing front-wheel-drive, Chinese-built economy sedan. Coda Automotive recently withdrew a DOE loan application to construct a factory in Columbus, Ohio. Coda will continue to have its vehicles manufactured in China before final assembly is completed in the U.S.

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