Northern California electric vehicle solution provider Motiv Power Systems is restructuring its team to enable a more rapid production ramp. The restructuring moves Motiv’s Founder and former CEO Jim Castelaz into the role of Chief Technology Officer role, where he can continue to drive and lead the development of the company’s software, firmware, and battery solutions.
Building The Right Team
Jim will be replaced by Motiv Chairman Matt O’Leary, who Jim lured out of retirement to help the company scale two years ago. Matt was at Ford for 38 years, where he worked in product development and most recently served as the Vehicle Line Director of Ford’s truck and SUV division before retiring in 2015.
CleanTechnica connected with Matt to talk about the leadership transition and to understand why this is the right time to restructure the company. Matt excitedly shared about getting connected with Jim in the first place and how he served as a Chairman at Motiv for two years before his recent move into the role of CEO. “I was just enjoying retirement and Jim gave him a call to be on his board of directors,” he said.
Matt shared how Jim explained the mission, vision, and values of Motiv with him, and it felt a lot like the early days of EVs at Ford. Back in the 90s, Matt worked on the Ford EV program and found that the battery technology just wasn’t robust enough at the time. “Getting a call from Jim 25 years after that to work on an idea that I thought was brilliant 25 years before that was exciting,” Matt said. Further sweetening the deal, “a lot of the business Motiv had at the time was based on a Ford chassis, which I knew and loved.”
The work Motiv Power Systems had done was a step change forward and made it clear that EVs and battery technology were ready for the prime time. “I think EVs are going to grow a lot quicker than anyone thought,” Matt said. “It’s like the stars are lining up to grow EVs.”
Shuffling the leadership deck and moving Jim into the CTO role comes as no surprise to either party, as Jim’s passion always sat with the core technologies that underpin Motiv’s solutions. “We all knew this day would come,” Matt said. Jim has always had more fun building new systems, playing with new battery chemistries, and optimizing the software that keeps everything playing well together. Matt shared that when Jim gets in the zone with the technologies that underpin Motiv Power Systems, it’s as if a switch flips. “The excitement you see in his face, his body language, he starts talking 100 miles an hour. He’s like a kid in a candy store,” Matt said. Letting Jim focus on the tech as CTO lets Jim do what he’s best at and brings Matt in to focus on helping Motiv Power Systems to scale.
A Solid Foundation
Over the last two years, Matt has brought his experience from Ford to bear at Motiv Power Systems, resulting in the team inking a deal with Detroit Custom Chassis (DCC). The new deal pulled together the team at Motiv Power Systems and DCC to standardize the production of our chassis to slot into the existing production line of Ford combustion chassis. Doing that allows DCC to optimize the production process of the chassis in order to achieve efficiency in scale production.
“Detroit chassis plant is a plant I’m very familiar with,” Matt said. “They have a lot of flexibility to do things that you can’t do in a normal Ford environment. Instead of building up a normal vehicle then stripping out the ICE components [this] is just much, much more efficient.” The move is a critical strategy in the game plan for Motiv Power Systems moving forward. The ability to not only purchase, but to continue to refine, a chassis designed for EVs with production that can scale allows Motiv Power Systems to take a giant step forward when it comes to scale.
On the customer side, buying EV chassis from a player that’s already established in the space makes it easier for fleet managers to take a step into the future with Motiv Power Systems, knowing that their vehicles are built on top of an industry-standard chassis from a chassis builder they already know. “They’re a lot more conservative. They don’t like to just jump into new technology,” Matt said. “They want something that’s proven. They want somebody who can back the product.”
The new chassis for Motiv are now assembled at the same factories as the chassis being built for internal combustion fleet vehicles at DCC. The first customer deliveries of Motiv EPIC chassis originating from DCC left the building in Q1 2019.
Intelligent Solutions For A Rapidly Evolving Market
Motiv Power Systems started out as a software company which developed solutions that allowed the various motors and batteries to play well together, regardless of the chemistry and power output of the motor. Matt said that even today, the software side of commercial vehicle electrification is really where Motiv Power Systems’ solutions shine. “That is a space that no one is playing in right now,” he said.
Its solutions were recently validated with an agreement with BMW that will see Motiv Power Sytems purchasing the German company’s robust battery solutions. BMW was one of the early movers in the passenger vehicle electrification space with its BMW i3, and continues to invest heavily in battery research for its future lineup of electric vehicles.
“The immediate challenge is launching lithium-ion products,” Matt said. “We have a new lithium-ion product coming to market and another one in the wings.” That’s the near-term focus for Motiv Power Systems as it seeks to build on its recent win in locking in the new custom chassis with a step up with its battery systems. Matt is confident in Motiv Power Systems’ current technologies and the work the team is already doing on lithium-ion batteries in a push to, “stay ahead on the technology side and build off of our competitive advantage that we have today.”