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Coda and Great Wall agree to build EVs for the globe; Hafei partnership safe…for now

May 4, 2012

Okay, I wasn’t completely correct about the implications of the Coda/Great Wall announcement back in August of 2011.  At that time, Coda said it had signed a letter of intent with Great Wall to develop electric vehicles. I predicted that the Coda/Great Wall partnership heralded the end to the Coda/Hafei relationship. Not so, at least not in the near term. Nonetheless, I am sticking to my prediction that the Great Wall relationship will be the dominant one with Coda, and that the Hafei connection will eventually die a natural death.

And I’m keeping a close eye on Coda. It seems Coda is taking a Tesla approach to the EV segment. That is, Coda is not just selling cars. It is selling its EV propulsion technology to other automakers. And it is selling its battery as a storage device. Of course, Tesla doesn’t have an energy storage business. But it has a damned good-looking car (and another on the way and its technology is going into a Toyota model (RAV-4) that will probably sell many units. Meanwhile, Coda has (so far) an ugly car with few units sold and its technology is going into a Chinese automaker’s cars. So Coda is lucky to have an energy storage business, too, just in case.

Another interesting aspect of this saga, at least for me right now, is what the new partnership means for Coda and Great Wall suppliers. Great Wall showed an electric vehicle at Auto China; it must have its own network of suppliers. Coda has its own. Who gets to supply the vehicles made through the new partnership? More on that later.

First, what prompts this discussion? On April 25 Coda announced that it had formed a strategic partnership with Great Wall to develop electric vehicles for the China, U.S., and European markets. I happened to be in Beijing at the time to attend Auto China and the Automotive News China Conference. Even though Phil Murtaugh was in town, too, we didn’t get to meet up. But I did get an exclusive phone interview with Phil the next morning. Of course, I had already listened in on the group phone interview the night before (for U.S. journos). But it was nice to get to ask my own questions.

Phil Murtaugh, CEO of Coda Holdings, says he has been talking with Great Wall since 2002. Finally, a good chance to work together has come along with the EV deal.

Under the agreement, Coda will provide the electric propulsion system; Great Wall will provide the chassis. The first model will be launched in the second quarter of 2014 and will be based on an existing Great Wall model (Didn’t I write about that a few months ago? My arm hurts from patting myself on the back. Or maybe it is just that old cycling injury….) The vehicle will be marketed in the U.S. as Coda, in China as Great Wall. “For Europe, it will be badged Coda, Great Wall, or some other brand we decide is even better,” Phil told me.

Coda’s propulsion systems can be used for BEVs, PHEVs, and HEVs. So what kind of vehicles will be produced in cooperation with Great Wall, I asked. For Coda, it will always be battery electric vehicles, said Phil. I asked Roger Gao, a spokesman for Great Wall, the same question at the AN China Conference. He said Great Wall would likely produce battery electric and hybrid electric vehicles using Coda’s technology. We didn’t discuss which would come first.

What does this mean for Great Wall’s partnership with Hafei , I asked Phil? He said: “That is an important partnership for us. It will remain extremely important to us. It gives us a customer for our batteries.” Now Phil is pretty crafty when it comes to answering reporter’s questions. But I checked with some suppliers to Coda at the Automotive News China conference. They confirmed that at least for now Coda still plans to produce pure EVs with Hafei. It would be politically too tricky to end that partnership, said one supplier, and besides, as Phil said, it gives Coda a customer for the batteries produced at the Coda/Tianjin Lishen battery joint venture in China.

As for volumes for Coda’s existing electric sedan, the supplier who confirmed the Hafei partnership said Coda has produced a few hundred of the sedans so far and planned to produce around 5,000 this year. That jives with Coda’s remarks. Another supplier at the conference said that Coda is sticking to its original future estimates of 10,000 annually for the time being.

Great Wall has already produced a battery electric vehicle—the electric small SUV was in the Great Wall stand at Auto China in Beijing. At the show, I asked someone in the Great Wall stand how many other EVs Great Wall planned. He said Great Wall was waiting to see what kind of support the government offered for EV purchases. According to Great Wall’s website, the automaker will focus on developing pure electric and hybrid electric models and over the next five years will invest 5 billion RMB (US $795 million at current exchange rates) in r&d and launch of new energy vehicles. By 2013, it will be capable of producing up to 150,000 new energy vehicles.  If Great Wall achieves that target this could be a good deal for Coda. Fortunately, it seems Great Wall’s future EV sales won’t be held hostage to the Chinese government’s support or lack thereof for EV purchases since the partnership is producing vehicles for the global market.

Great Wall already has electric drive train technology.

Great Wall touted its own EV powertrain at Auto China in Beijing in 2012.

It touts a hybrid power system in its literature from the Beijing show, for example. Why did it form this partnership with Coda, I asked Dr. Liu Zhen, special assistant to the president at Great Wall Motor Co.  He was a speaker at the AN China Conference.  Great Wall is always looking for the best technology, he said. Phil gave about the same answer. He said: “Coda has a really good EV propulsion system. Great Wall decided they could achieve their goals faster by teaming up with us.” (First he said,  “Ask Great Wall.” See Phil, I did ask Great Wall.) I wondered what that means for suppliers to either the current Great Wall EVs or the Coda EV sedan. For UQM Technologies, at least, it means trying to get the additional Great Wall/Coda business, a UQM exec told me. UQM supplies the electric propulsion system to Coda. No guarantees the original suppliers will get the new contract, though with UQM I’d say it is a good bet it will. A supplier to Great Wall told me the same thing, that it was trying to get the new business. One existing supplier is sure to get the new business. Tianjin Lishen will definitely supply the batteries to the jointly-developed vehicles, Phil told the journos on the group phone call. “We have a great JV with Lishen,” he said. “We will utilize that JV.”

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Inna permalink
    May 5, 2012 9:34 pm

    I don’t think it is an “ugly car”, I thought it was nice looking and the best of all the EV’s I have had the oppertunity to drive. I did not need a big lesson on how to operate the thing, it was simple and easy to understand it it drove great!

  2. Neil Delm permalink
    May 8, 2012 6:24 am

    Tesla does have ESS’s. That’s publicly available information – just FYI.

  3. Lawrence permalink
    May 10, 2012 6:38 pm

    In the meantime Chang’an continues to turn out the same Saibao sedan model under the name E30 in China, in taxi form as well.
    What is also interesting is that Coda has made no effort to engage Chang’an, the parent of Hafei, for opportunities of future cooperation. Seems there are many Chang’an models that are equally ripe for the UQM drivetrains. What’s Chang’an.. chopped liver?

    • May 10, 2012 9:32 pm

      Changan has partners. Great Wall has none. Great Wall is privately-owned; Changan is a huge SOE. Changan isn’t keen to produce EVs just yet–it is waiting to see what the government incentive policy will be. And when it does, it will likely work with Ford.

      Actually, Great Wall may waiting, as well. Since the first model isn’t due out for a while, the incentive situation will be much clearer by then.

  4. Lawrence permalink
    May 11, 2012 1:32 pm

    You are right Alysha.
    Actually I am surprised that Chang’an hasn’t done more to smooth Coda’s path. I thought their decision to purchase Hafei was a good one but I don’t see it being developed the way I expected. Perhaps Chang’an has grown too big, spreading itself thin with Landwind and now stretching even down to Kunming, and to Shenzhen in its partnering with PSA Peugeot Citroen.

    • May 11, 2012 5:48 pm

      Changan doesn’t care about a one-model collaboratioh Hafei has with a company that may go belly up. Changan was made to ingest Hafei. I don’t think Hafei figures into CA’s overall strategy very much.

  5. Lawrence permalink
    August 7, 2012 3:48 pm

    And, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that as an SOE, Chang’an was under pressure to cooperate with Beijing’s effort to consolidate the industry.
    Curiously Chang’an’s recent talks with another small automaker, Zhongxing, went no where.

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