Electric Vehicle Makers, CODA Holdings, Appoint Phil Murtaugh CEO

Today, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based maker of electric vehicles and batteries, CODA Holdings, appointed auto industry veteran Phil Murtaugh as chief executive officer.

On a conference call, CODA’s interim CEO Steven “Mac” Heller described Murtaugh as someone who believes “the automotive industry can innovate rapidly and be more responsible as a global citizen,” and is deeply experienced in building American auto businesses in Asia. Earlier this month, the company raised a $76 million bringing its equity funding to about $200 million, sparking IPO rumors.

Murtaugh previously worked as chairman and chief executive officer of GM China. Over a decade, he grew GM’s presence there from fifteen employees in its Shanghai operations to 15,000 employees throughout the country, increasing the unit’s revenue from $300 million to more than $7 billion. In brief, Murtaugh discussed CODA’s plans in Asia, and how he will leverage his experience on behalf of the younger car company:

“We have a joint venture with one of the three largest battery manufacturers in China [Lishen Power Battery of Tianjin, China, whose principal shareholder is CNOOC, or China National Offshore Oil Company]. The joint venture is called LIO [Energy Systems]. They will manufacture the battery systems for [our] vehicles. We also have contract assembly agreements to assemble the [battery packs]…

A vast majority of CODA manufacturing will be in China. That fits nicely with experiences I’ve had [there] for the last 15 years. I understand China’s manufacturers and culture. My experience will help us deal with those situations. We’re going to introduce our vehicle into China’s domestic market as well as in the U.S.”

Through its battery system joint venture, currently CODA is a large-scale producer of power battery systems for the transportation and utility industries. Murtaugh touched upon CODA’s retail sales outlook for its vehicles in the U.S., as well.

“We haven’t announced our plans. But what I can tell you is this…We won’t start our retail sales through a traditional dealer network. It will involve setting up company-owned sales outlets. They will be in high visibility areas with lots of [foot] traffic where people will be able to walk in or make an appointment [online] to test drive vehicles. [Customers will be able to] configure their vehicles, and place orders online. This will be a no-haggle buying experience. That’s shown to be very, very successful with other [car] brands.”

With Murtaugh’s appointment, Miles L. Rubin, CODA’s founder and co-chairman becomes a chairman emeritus, remains a company director and the company’s largest shareholder. Heller, CODA Holdings interim CEO and a co-chairman, will move into the role of executive chairman.