Things have gotten a bit dire at California-based electric carmaker Coda Automotive, which late last week announced that it was laying off 50 people (15 percent of the staff). Even spokeswoman Larkin Hill was let go.

The story was broken at (where I also report), and the company quickly tried to spin the news, saying that the move to “release” the employees was designed to “right size” Coda. But only about 100 cars have sold, and in the wake of a poor crash safety rating, they’re not likely to move many more.

There is bound to be attrition in the electric car business. We’ve lost Aptera, Bright, and a bunch of smaller ones I barely had time to meet. The Coda Sedan is based on a small Chinese vehicle, which the company struggled to bring up to date (including with stronger crash-worthiness). The strategy of buying a bargain Chinese car sounded good at the time, but it’s plain that making the Coda competitive was a Herculean task, despite a larger battery, battery management and more range than the Nissan Leaf.

One big problem is that Chinese styling is 20 to 30 years behind the West, and attempts to dress up the Coda didn’t do much to disguise the 1985 Toyota Corolla design. The car looks dated.

A recall brought 78 of the 100 cars back for airbag issues, and the national safety agency gave the car an OK four stars (but only two stars for the driver). Here's the car getting a crash test, on video:

These things hurt, as did the car’s price of $39,900 (lowered from $44,900.) Coda never had a dealer network or a well-organized marketing plan, and its strategy of selling cars only in California was problematic. The departure of hard-charging CEO Kevin Czinger in 2010 was a big warning sign, and the company has kept something of a low profile since then.

Coda spokesman Forrest Beanum says the company is “streamlining” its operations and “remains committed to the continued development and distribution of our products.” Efforts to get some elaboration on that were unavailing.

Coda has some interesting battery technology in partnership with a Chinese battery company, and grid storage applications. It may evolve into something other than an electric car company hoping to knock off the big-league competition.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Coda's layoffs spell trouble ahead
A description of Coda battery car company's layoffs