Mid-size electric vehicles for the masses have yet to roll off the production line and into showrooms, but the competition for sales is already heating up. To win market share, CODA Automotive will break with tradition by forgoing auto row entirely. Instead the start-up will set up shop in malls.
Yes, shopping malls.
Before you make jokes about buying cars at Wal-Mart or impulse purchasing a new car when you meant to buy a pair of jeans, take into consideration that this sales strategy is already used in Japan.
And it's also very similar Apple's sales model, says Kevin Czinger, CODA Automotive president and CEO.
When shopping for a new car, customers conduct research online and show up at dealerships pretty much only to test-drive the cars, explained Czinger in a press conference this morning. CODA plans to establish storefronts in malls within 10-12 miles of its core demographic so customers can try out the company's products in a zero-pressure sales environment. In a more hands-on than hard-sell approach, CODA will own all the stores and sell its cars directly to the consumer without markup. Rounding out the modernized sales strategy will be sales consultants who will not work on commission.
It's not just the sales model that's been revolutionized. Should you need to bring your car in for service, a "CODA valet" will pick up the car at your home and return it to you after service is completed. Taking another cue from Apple, the company plans to set up a "Genius Bar" of sorts in each of the stores. By the year's end, CODA plans on establishing a storefront in in Los Angeles and another in the Bay Area and sell 14,000 cars by the end of 2011. Customers can reserve their CODA now with a refundable $499 deposit.
But will candy-white decor and a T-shirt clad sales team be enough to win over customers, especially since the Nissan Leaf will be priced thousands less than the $37,400 CODA after federal incentives, or $32,400 if you're lucky enough to qualify for California state incentives?
Czinger counters customers' decision to purchase an electric car doesn't hinge on price. And he could be right. Going on Leaf's preorder demographics, the majority of EV customers are well educated and well-heeled boomers with a conscience and probably a bit of a tech fetish.
Eliminating price from the decision process, the choice will could be tough. Apples-to-apples, the CODA and Nissan Leaf specifications are fairly evenly matched. However, the CODA has a longer range and faster Level II charging capability than the Leaf. In testing, the CODA consistently provides a driving range of 90-120 on a full charge in all seasons, says Czinger. The Leaf's range will vary wildly depending on what features the driver is using and the climate.
The CODA's 6.6kWh on-board charger means it recharges twice as fast as a Leaf's 3.3kWh onboard charger. That said, the CODA is not equipped with a Level 3 DC fast-charger to recharge up to 80 percent of the capacity in 30 minutes, and the Leaf is. But that may or may not be an issue for consumers, says Czinger, since most of the time drivers will recharge at home.
Although 50 percent of the Leaf's customers aren't existing Nissan customers, the carmaker has a reputation that it can leverage to build trust with potential customers in the uncharted EV frontier. On the other hand, CODA has a blank slate on which it can design itself as a cutting-edge tech/car company. In a way, it's poised to become the next Apple, and by offering its cars in a handful of colors with the ability to customize with a "wide variety of accent colors," it's hinting that it will at least try. But like anything else, it will all come down to execution.