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Electric car startup Coda announced the resignation by “mutual consent” of its CEO Kevin Czinger (pictured below), a dynamic figure who was minted from the annals of Goldman Sachs, brought on investors like former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson and helped Coda raise $125 million.
Evidently, though, he wasn’t doing enough. Coda’s vice president of public affairs and communications Forrest Beanum told VentureBeat the company is hunting for a new CEO and hopes to have one in place by the end of the year. In the meantime, company co-chairman Steven Heller will step in as interim CEO and Czinger will stay on as a “senior strategic advisor.” The company’s newly-hired CFO Mark Jamieson will also take on the role as COO.
Coda is also in the market for a new senior vice president of global sales, since their last one stepped down last week. With the defection of these senior leaders, it looks like Coda may be in choppy waters, but the company (of course) has sought to put a positive spin on things.
“There comes a point in time when the senior leadership needs to be realigned to meet aggressive new deadlines. We are moving forward with an IPO, we hope next year,” Beanum said. Czinger was a talented fundraiser, and now the company is refocusing on sales and looking for a candidate with experience and contacts in the original equipment manufacturing space, he said.
The company says the management shakeup has been planned for awhile now but won’t comment on the specifics of how long the plans have been percolating. Given the abruptness of the announcement and what looks to be some pretty poor timing, I’m guessing it’s fairly recent. In late September, the company was looking to commit Czinger to speak at VentureBeat’s GreenBeat 2010 conference, which took place last week, but it suddenly canceled a few days before the event, saying the company was too busy with the launch of the sedan.
Why change leadership now, when the car is about to be released to the general public? Beanum made an interesting analogy:
“I’m a father, and there’s never a right time to have a child. These things come along when the time is now and you just have to remain flexible and just take things as they come,” he said. “This is a positive announcement. It shouldn’t be misconstrued as anything different. It’s time for us to sharpen our sword.”
The focus on manufacturing and sales does make sense. Coda is ramping up for a rather aggressive sales target of 14,000 vehicles sold by the end of the year, 40 to 50 percent of which will be from fleet sales. And there are some serious concerns about whether or not it’ll hit those goals.
The company already has some question marks surrounding it after announcing pricing for its sedan. At nearly $45,000, it’s about $12,000 more expensive than its better-known competitor, the Nissan Leaf. The Coda sedan is in fact closer in price to the $41,000 Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid also set for release next month, although Beanum stresses that with federal and state incentives, the sedan will be priced in the “mid-30s.”
“I don’t see that it can (compete). It’s more expensive” than the Nissan Leaf, said Jacob Grose, analyst for Lux Research. “I think the Coda is going to be a much, much tougher sell. It’s not coming from a name brand. It’s really hard to see how this is going to be successful.”
And the exit of two high-profile Coda executives in such a short period of time doesn’t bode well. It’s also interesting that the company is letting go of a star fundraiser in Czinger just as it is planning to raise another $125 million before an initial public offering. (In addition to the $125 million already raised, Coda has a joint venture with Chinese battery company Lishen that Coda capitalized with $100 million in equity.)
Coda will debut its sedan at the Los Angeles Auto Show next week and will release more details in the next two weeks on when and how the car will be made available to consumers.
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