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Electric Car Startup Coda Brings in New CEO

Electric car startup Coda Automotive has found its new CEO. GM veteran Phil Murtaugh, who launched GM’s Shanghai-based business, is taking over as permanent CEO for interim CEO Steven Heller. Coda’s previous CEO Kevin Czinger stepped down from the company late last year, around the same time that the company pushed back the launch date of its inaugural electric sedan to the third quarter of 2011, from the end of 2010.

Murtaugh said in a call with reporters on Friday that his focus over the next 6 months is to bring Coda’s first electric car to market, and said “it will be a successful vehicle.” Murtaugh also emphasized that Coda will take its electric battery tech to the grid storage business and the company is already working with a large number of global suppliers on that front.

The fact that Murtaugh has years of experience in the Chinese auto business is no coincidence. Coda has a joint venture with Chinese battery cell giant Lishen Battery Power, and Coda and Lishen have agreed to invest $100 million into the venture alongside a commitment for a $294 million line of credit from the Bank of Tianjin Joint-Stock Co. Murtaugh also said on the call with reporters that Coda will be selling the Coda electric sedan into the Chinese market.

As McKinsey Quarterly has put it, Coda can take advantage of China’s lower labor costs, as well as the country’s “success in rechargeable-battery technology, and its substantial investments (both made and committed) in R&D for electrified transport.”

While Coda might have missed its first deadline, it has been making progress on its fund raising, and now obviously its executive search. As I reported earlier this month Coda has raised $76.40 million of a planned $125 million round, from new investors Harbinger Capital Partners, and Riverstone Holdings and also included existing investors Coda founder Miles Rubin, Coda interim CEO Steven Mac Heller, AERIS Capital, and Angeleno Group. Coda has almost $50 million more to raise to reach that goal.

Coda has also been waiting to see if the DOE will give it a loan out of its advanced vehicles manufacturing program. On progress of the loan Heller told me in November, and repeated in the phone call on Friday: “We’re waiting by the phone.”

When Coda launches its electric sedan later this year, it will still be one of the first startups in the world to offer an electric mainstream car. If the pricing remains the same, the Coda sedan will cost $44,900 before any subsidies, $37,400 with the federal incentive, and as low as $32,400 with both state and federal subsidies in certain markets like California. Tesla’s Model S electric sedan, which will cost around $50,000, will be launched in late 2012/early 2013.

For more research on electric cars check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):