UPDATE 1-Coda Automotive taps former GM China chief as CEO

Fri Jan 21, 2011 4:49pm EST

* Ex-GM, Chrysler exec Phil Murtaugh to become Coda CEO

* Murtaugh has 15 years of experience in Chinese market

* Coda on schedule to deliver sedan later this year

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Electric car start-up Coda Holdings tapped a former General Motors Co (GM.N) and Chrysler [CCMLPD.UL] executive with extensive experience in China as its new chief executive.

Phil Murtaugh, who spent more than 30 years at GM, assumed the CEO role at privately-held Coda effective immediately. He replaces Steven "Mac" Heller, a board member who was named interim CEO in November. Heller will now become executive chairman.

Coda, like Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA.O) and Fisker Automotive, is one of several new companies that are banking on mass market adoption of electric vehicles. Major automakers including Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) and GM are also racing to launch electric cars, betting these will be the non-polluting transportation of the future.

On a conference call with reporters, the Santa Monica, California-based automaker said it was on schedule to deliver its all-electric Coda sedan to California consumers in the second half of this year.

Coda's five-passenger sedan will cost $32,400 after federal and state incentives.

"The product we have is truly going to be a very very competitive product," Murtaugh.

Since 1996, Murtaugh has worked almost exclusively in China, running GM's operations there before running the international operations of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp and, later, serving as CEO of Chrysler's Asia operations. Most recently he has served as a director of Lear Corp (LEA.N) and as a consultant to several manufacturing companies.

Coda plans to assemble its sedan in China, where it also has a battery joint venture with Lishen Battery Power. The company's Chinese presence "fits very nicely with the experiences I've had in China," Murtaugh said.

Coda has applied for a loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a battery manufacturing plant in Ohio, but is still "waiting by the phone" for news of the loan, Heller said. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Carol Bishopric)