Auto Outlook: The end for the Coda EV

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer  |  May 5, 2013 at 5:30 AM
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Never heard of Coda Automotive? Don't feel too bad.

The 4-year-old Los Angeles start-up sold 100 or so all-electric sedans before deciding to bail out of the increasingly crowded EV market.

Most of the $37,250 Codas that reached U.S. shores were made in China although the car launched last year was completed with a powertrain installed in California. The basic Coda claimed it could go about 125 miles on a single charge. The EPA said 88 miles per charge.

The Detroit News says the fledgling manufacturer filed for bankruptcy after undergoing layoffs and being hit by lawsuits from unpaid creditors.

Coda Holdings Inc., the automaker's parent, said it is "focusing its business strategy on the growing energy storage market" and would restructure the company under Chapter 11 protection from creditors.

Coda indicated it hoped to implement its new business plan within 45 days selling proprietary battery management and thermal management systems. The company was capitalized at $200 million to $300 million when it began making its only vehicle and it had announced plans last year to build another EV model by mid-2014.

April not a cruel month to U.S. automakers

Ford, Chrysler and General Motors all reported double-digit sales gains last month, with Ford sales up 18 percent to 212,584 vehicles, thanks to healthy sales of F-Series pickups. Ford truck sales rose 24 percent, topping 59,000 vehicles, the best April sales since 2008.

GM sales were up 11.4 percent to 237,646 vehicles and Chrysler, the smallest of the Detroit Three, saw its sales increase 11 percent to 158,698. Monthly sales of the Dodge Durango were up 65 percent and sales of Ram pickups jumped 12.8 percent to 31,409 light trucks.

Total Chrysler branded vehicle sales actually slipped 13 percent, and the company's first quarter earnings were down 65 percent to $16 million from the same quarter a year ago as slow model introductions left dealers with tight inventories.

"We sold all the cars we could possibly sell," Chrysler Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne told The Detroit News on a conference call. "I did not build enough."

Marchionne was optimistic Chrysler would meet its annual financial numbers on the strength of the launch of the all-new, revived 2014 Jeep Cherokee. Chrysler hopes to sell 2.6 million to 2.7 million Cherokees this year.

"We remain on track to achieve our business targets, even as the first-quarter results were affected by an aggressive product-launch schedule," he said.

Chrysler sales have risen for 36 straight months in the United States since the company was purchased in bankruptcy by Italy's Fiat SpA. Fiat, which has been hit by falling sales in Europe, earned just over $40 million in the first quarter boosted by Chrysler's performance and hopes to buy the 41.5 percent of the company held by the United Auto Workers to complete the merger.

Meanwhile, Chrysler is sticking with its iconic "Imported from Detroit" slogan, introduced in a gritty, two-minute, 2011 Super Bowl commercial starring Detroit rap artist Eminem.

"'Imported from Detroit' is and will continue to be the tagline for the Chrysler brand," Chrysler's chief marketing officer said in statement.

Perhaps the best news for U.S. automakers is that analysts see no sales slowdown any time soon.

An analyst as City Investment Research told The Detroit News pent-up demand for replacement vehicles will boost annual auto sales from the current 15.5 million this year to 16 million to 16.5 million by 2015.

"It's entirely driven by the number of vehicles per household," Citi's Italy Michaeli told the News in an interview. "The pent-up demand is still building."

Nissan, which saw April sales increase 24.6 percent from the same month a year ago, cutting sticker prices on seven of the 18 models it sells in the United States to make them more competitive and grab market share.

The Chicago Tribune said manufacturers suggest retail prices will drop on some 2013 Nissan Altima, Sentra, Juke, Murano, Rogue, Maxima and Armada models.

The price cuts range from 2.7 percent on a midsize Altima sedan to 10.7 percent on the Armada SUV.

Most of the models are made in the United States.

NHTSA looks at Crown Vic police interceptors

The watchdog National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating reports of steering column problems on 195,000 Ford Crown Victoria police cruisers.

The venerable Crown Vic, which was discontinued in 2011, is a favorite of police forces and taxi companies, but there have been five incidents where steering columns may have separated on civilian Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis 2009-11 models.

The Detroit Free Press said there have been 42 reports of the lower steering column partly separating from the upper steering column.

Study: Motorcycle deaths up

A study by the Governors Highway Safety Association found U.S. motorcycle deaths rose 9 percent last year over 2011, with more than 5,000 people killed on two-wheelers.

The study blamed the increase in motorcycle fatalities on a lack of universal mandatory state helmet laws and an improving economy with more riders taking to the road.

Just 19 U.S. states require motorcycle riders to wear helmets at all times. In 1997, 26 states had mandatory helmet laws.

Motorcycle-related deaths accounted for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2012, with speeding a factor in more than 35 percent of fatalities, alcohol a factor in 29 percent and lack of motorcycle training a growing factor.

The study found 22 percent of riders in fatal accidents did not have a valid motorcycle license.

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