No Careful Owner: Dozens of Neutered CODA Sedans Wait For a New Home

If an image can tell a thousand words, then undoubtedly the set of images accompanying a rather unassuming ebay listing we stumbled across this weekend can tell a whole story. It’s a story of dashed hopes, broken dreams, and a company who failed to revolutionise the world.

These cars are waiting for a buyer, like any other new car. But they will probably never get one. (image: eBay)

These cars are waiting for a buyer, like any other new car. But they will probably never get one. (image: eBay)

The first image looks like something out of the land of lost toys: rows of neatly parked, nearly-new cars stretching as far as the eye can see. Some are grey, some blue, some black. All are covered in a thick film of dust and grime, telling the story of how they’ve been ignored for nearly a year. Peek through the windows past the dust, and you might see a pristine new interior, untouched and never before sat in, still wearing the protective covers they were given at the factory half a world away. Yet most are missing the important electrical components they need to move, like battery pack, motor, and power circuitry.

The forty or so cars in the picture are CODA Sedans, all-electric cars destined for the U.S. market to do battle with cars like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt. But unlike those familiar names, the CODA Sedan didn’t come from an established automaker. It came from a startup company determined to make its fortune in the world of electric cars.

CODA Automotive — founded in 2009 — had its roots further back in history with a long-forgotten company called Miles Automotive, which promised by never managed to bring the precursor of the CODA Sedan — the Miles XS500 — to market.

Before we go any further however, a quick history lesson.

Like Miles Automotive before it, CODA dreamed of taking the Hafei Saibao — a Chinese-made gasoline car originally designed by Pininfirina for a joint project between Volvo and Mitsubishi– and turning it into an electric car. While the car itself, including its wheels, interiors, low-voltage electronics and drivetrain mechanicals, were assembled in China, the cars were imported to the U.S. as ‘gliders’ — cars without any drivetrain or powerplant cars without any battery pack but motor and power electronics fitted– for ‘final assembly’ in the U.S.

The reason? In doing so, the final assembly of the car would take place in the U.S., making CODA Automotive at least eligible on paper for low-interest loans under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program.  With a head-office in Los Angeles and test cars making regular appearances at auto shows, CODA promised the industry it would launch ‘soon’.

This one still wears its factory-fitted dust covers, and a CA HOV-Lane eligibility leaflet sits on the passenger seat.

This one still wears its factory-fitted dust covers, and a CA HOV-Lane eligibility leaflet sits on the passenger seat.

Delays came and went, as did many of CODA’s prominent staff members and launch date after launch date. Eventually, in March 2012, CODA began customer deliveries, just weeks before announcing that it was withdrawing its ATVM loan application. At that time, CODA CEO Phil Murtaugh maintained the automaker was on track to produce a second plug-in car for the U.S. market by mid-2014, despite low CODA Sedan sales figures. With a retail figure approaching $39,000, the CODA Sedan — only sold in California — couldn’t compete with cheaper, better made cars from Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chevrolet, and Ford.

Less than a year later, with no funds, no DoE money, and no factories, CODA Automotive filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Wile the automotive brand perished, the lithium-ion battery technology CODA said would give its first and only electric car a real-world range in excess of 125 miles survived, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of CODA Automotive to form grid storage company CODA Energy.

Which brings us nicely back to the rows and rows of cars parked in a photograph accompanying this rather unassuming ebay listing.

Entitled “2013 Other Makes Coda Originally an Electric Vehicle-no motor now,” the listing promises that the cars — most of them incomplete without any battery pack, motor, power electronics, charger or even air conditioning, would “make is a great way to own a complete body and interior if you are a Coda owner and want to keep a spare.”

Interestingly, the vendor claims many of the cars have had their battery packs and drivetrains removed to be put in ‘other’ cars and notes that in some cases, even the car’s wiring loom has been cut.

We’ve reached out to the vendor for clarification on this particular matter, since we were under the impression that the cars arrived in the U.S. without any of these items fitted. For that reason, we think it a little strange that cars were built and then destroyed rather than sold complete, but if true perhaps there’s a story yet to be told as to why this happened.  We know the vendor refers to these electrically and mechanically incomplete cars as ‘rollers’: cars which can be pushed around, but at the time of writing, they haven’t responded to our request for more information. and you can see his official response to our email questions at the bottom of this post.

The dust says it all...

The dust says it all…

This canabalistic story is given at least some credence by the news from The seller says that he has a handful of complete cars for sale which are ready for registration, as well as semi-complete cars: ones he calls ‘gliders’ that have everything they need to operate with the exception of a battery pack or battery management system.

All of the cars of course, come without warranty, and while the vendor says you’ll get a factory manual with each car and access to spares, we’re guessing buying one of these vehicles won’t be for the faint of heart.

The only potential customers we can think of would be enthusiastic DIY conversion experts, custom car fans, and perhaps those who want to use the car for some other purpose — like learning basic mechanical skills. But at a buy-it-now price of nearly $3,000, we’re thinking most enthusiastic converters will find another donor vehicle to work on.

As for the lines and lines of incomplete cars? The ones which weren’t part of the 117 examples sold during CODA’s short stint as an automaker? We think they’re doomed to sit alone, unloved, in that San Jose yard for some time to come.

And they remind us one simple thing: petrol, diesel, or electric, it’s easy to make a car. But it’s a whole different thing to make a good one.

[Edit] Update from the eBay seller, Rick, who was kind enough to give us a little clarification on some of our questions about this unusual listing.

“This particular car had its drivetrain removed for a buyer in Europe who wanted to convert another vehicle to an EV. It was easier and less expensive for him to ship the parts vs. the whole car. We are just testing the waters to see what the response would be on this one car, we really don’t expect to sell it as it has much more value if we part it out. I read your story on the Codas and here is a little more info for you. The cars came here from China with the US drivetrain components already installed. The battery pack, trim pieces and Navigation system was installed at the Amports facility in Benicia, California. We still work with Amports on various jobs for the Codas. I am not aware of any owners or dealers cannibalizing any complete cars. We have parts in stock for most anything that may come up repair wise.

We still have a good supply of gliders currently in stock. We could finish over 80 cars at this point. We still have a pretty good supply of complete cars as well. Again, this one car listed on EBay was just a test. Of course it would be better for us all if someone were to build an Electric Vehicle from this chassis but the possibilities are endless.

Thanks for the interest!
Rick”

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