Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Benicia scores green auto operation

Benicia scores green auto operation

Amports Inc. will do final assembly for Coda’s zero-emission car

By Loralee Stevens, Special to the Business Journal           

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, drive's the all-electric car.

BENICIA – City and county officials got a tour last week of Benicia’s first foray into green technology.

Startup zero-emission car developer Coda Automotives of Santa Monica has inked a deal with long-time Benicia automotive processing company Amports Inc. to do the final assembly on its flagship zero-emission cars.

Coda CEO Phil Murtaugh led a tour last Monday of the assembly operation for Solano officials, including Benicia mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who hailed the agreement as “proof positive” of the benefits of collaboration.

Coda’s cars, slated for the fleet market, will be shaped in China, then shipped to the Port of Oakland and trucked to Benicia where major drive-train components – including Coda’s 12-volt lithium-ion battery – will be installed by Amports.

Beginning around the end of this year, 10,000 to 14,000 cars are expected to roll through the assembly line during the first 12 months.

Coda CEO Phil Murtaugh explains the Code assembly process

According to Amports general manger Randy Scott, an initial 50 employees will be hired to run the operation, some by Coda, some by Amports.

“We have the capacity to absorb the assembly work already,” he said.

He did not disclose details of the agreement, but referred to it as “long term.”

According to Solano acting economic development manager Mario Giuliani, who arranged last Monday’s tour and press conference, the agreement spells a great win for the county and an opportunity for Benicia to attract more clean, green tech companies.

“With Amports developing the capacity to assemble zero-emission vehicles, other electric and hybrid car makers could lower their production costs by following Coda,” he said.

Mayor Patterson said Benicia could become a leader in the transition from petrochemical to alternative-energy industries. The city has long been known for oil refining, with Valero Energy Corp. a major business presence.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, drove a Coda prototype and pronounced it fascinating.

“We are excited that Coda decided to pick California as a launching place … ,” he said. “At a time when America is fixated on the idea of jobs immediately and jobs in the future, it really is through the kind of innovation that Coda brings – in this case to the transportation field – that’s going to drive jobs.”

Coda has raised over $200 million in venture funding. The 200-employee company expects to begin selling its first cars around the beginning of 2012. It’s currently building a network of dealers and intends to open a showroom somewhere in the Bay Area, according to Mr. Murtaugh.

“We’re hoping it’ll be in Benicia,” said Mr. Giuliani. “A green point-of-sale business would be a terrific addition to the green assembly line.”