LAND. SEA. AIR.
Perhaps it was America’s ‘discovery’ – and ultimately its settlement – by ship that led this young country (and young population) to its history of innovation; sailing, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, was a far more complex process than steering a horse-drawn wagon or cart, and there certainly wasn’t a Welcome Wagon-type greeting. That history began almost with the country’s inception, with Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Thomas Edison, Cyrus McCormick and George Washington Carver just a few of the men seeing a need and possessing the vision to satisfy it. To be sure, Motivo Engineering’s workplace in Gardena, CA is a long way from Fulton’s Hudson or Carver’s Tuskegee Institute – but one or two centuries later, Motivo is doing much of their same work.
Appropriately (I think) I arrived at Motivo’s HQ behind the wheel of Kia’s EV6, an of-this-century EV with – in its GT guise – more performance than can be intelligently or legally used. Motivo’s building, although relatively non-descript from the outside, is a veritable toyland on the inside, with a workshop which can be easily (and endlessly) reconfigured based on those projects currently in process, as well as the early work on projects in the near future.
Born from the racing endeavors of Rod Millen and his Millenworks, after the sale of Millenworks (to Textron) Motivo was formed in 2010. And from the beginning the then-small team looked into anything and everything connected to agriculture, transportation and marine engineering. While virtually all of its design work has been business-to-business, that work touches on any number of areas Joe Consumer interacts with on an almost daily basis.
Our guides for this visit included Motivo CEO Allen Goad, whose demeanor is closer to that of a NASCAR team owner than a team leader of new tech; Damon Pipenberg, serving as Motivo’s Chief Technology Officer; Stephan Schmitz-Justen, who’s using Motivo as a professional layover between his home in Munich and his next posting in the Netherlands; and Adam Oddo, who is Motivo’s Client Development Lead. And as you already know, his name is Oddo.
The company bio is on prominent display in the lobby, and that bio runs the gamut: Boats with electric propulsion merge with electric-powered tractors and ag implements with autonomous guidance, while a passenger capsule for commercial aviation – maybe it will come with legroom! – shares space with a one-passenger trike (lithium-powered) which leans you into the turn. Inside the shop a Mustang Mach-E sits on a platform as Motivo works with wireless charging, while on the other side of that same shop an old(ish) F-Series is turned into an offroad racer – as a personal project – by one of the company’s many engineers.
At the Gardena facility there are roughly 65 employees, and the sheer breadth of Motivo’s interests and undertakings demands a diverse and eclectic workforce. We were told repeatedly that a successful job applicant should bring with him or her some degree of attention deficit; I tried to fill out an application after lunch…but was immediately distracted.
In a short visit (roughly 15 miles of juice going back into the EV6) you’re left with a genuine optimism for Motivo’s ability – and by extension, this country’s ability – to problem solve for not only Illinois or Iowa, but for India and Indonesia. The challenges are global, and Motivo’s staff is capable of taking a stab – if they need a knife, they have their own laser cutter – at most of them.