Motivo Engineering’s job is to transform wacky ideas into practical realities.
When you’ve spent your career working on automotive design and engineering, where do you go from there? If you’re engineering startup Motivo, the answer is: anywhere.
Located in an otherwise unassuming office park near Torrance, California, Motivo Engineering does concept design, development, prototyping, and manufacturing all under one roof. Its list of current projects is mind-boggling: a hybrid tractor being developed in partnership with USAID, wearable technology for law enforcement crowd control, hybrid military vehicles, and a driving simulator geared towards distracted teens for use at auto shows. The company even developed a soft-fabric flexible strap that can be attached to messenger bags; it features screen-printed conductive ink that can deliver enough power to charge your iPhone.
Motivo’s mission is twofold: to help people turn seemingly crazy ideas into functional products, and to help ensure those products are ready for manufacturing.
Motivo’s founders all come from the automotive and tech sectors. Prior to moving into their Torrance space, Motivo was headquartered in the Hermosa Beach garage of president Nate Schroeder, whose background includes advanced manufacturing at Chrysler and concept and prototype development with MillenWorks. His credits include such vehicles as the Jeep Hurricane concept car. CEO Praveen Penmesta specializes in rapid prototyping and product development. He’s helped Yamaha build a number of segment-busting prototype vehicles.
It was already close to 7:30 pm by the time we arrived at the office, but no one at Motivo had gone home. For its employees, the work is more a passion than a job. Every project is the ultimate puzzle, and the staff thrives on staying until it’s solved.
Schroeder and Penmesta beamed as they showed off one of their recently-completed projects: a client-requested fully-electric speedboat that can go up to 47 whisper-quiet mph. At full speed, they say you can hear the waves it creates in its wake. This particular client was referred to them by an engineer friend, formerly employed at Tesla, who had tried his hand at developing the powerboat but didn’t think it would ever work. A year after the introductions were made, the engineer checked in to see what ever came of the project. A grinning Schroeder replied, “The boat’s done—it’s out on the water.”
Other applications are more practical. As electric cars gained popularity in California, the need for a jump-charge solution became a new issue for roadside assistance groups like AAA. Motivo developed a set of customized AAA trucks equipped with a self-charging “supercharger” in the truck bed to ensure Teslas, Leafs, and other consumer EVs can juice up enough make it to the next available charging station.
This unique ability to take an impossible-sounding idea and run with it is Motivo’s “special sauce,” said Schroeder. He and Penmesta credit their automotive industry background for their ability to tackle their clients’ seemingly impossible tasks.
“Car design and development is a lot more sophisticated than people give it credit for,” said Schroeder, referring especially to the amount of flak the industry gets for its clunky infotainment systems. “We were working with an aerospace client who wanted to redesign the interior of a business jet. And they wanted touchscreens everywhere—touchscreens are high-tech. But you look at Mercedes and they’ve had the same mechanical toggles for seat adjustment, in the exact same place near the interior door handle, for 20 years. Sometimes technology isn’t all touchscreens and the latest gear. Mercedes hasn’t changed those toggles because they work. They work while driving so you don’t have to look down.”
That basic tenet—knowing when not to do something as well as when it’s time to innovate—is a lesson some industries would do well to learn. After all, part of problem solving is first understanding whether a problem actually exists. In Motivo’s case, the solutions they develop are marvelous.