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Business & Economy

A leaning trike and a fast electric boat: Marc Haefele goes inside Motivo Engineering

1960 aerial view looking west onto Rocketdyne Missile Division, Canoga Avenue.
1960 aerial view looking west onto Rocketdyne Missile Division, Canoga Avenue.
Jon Woods/LAPL/Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times Collection

One of the great  statistical mysteries of Greater LA is how, though widely reputed to be anti-business, it remains America's prime industrial region.  Most of the aerospace factories have gone, along with their thousands of high paying jobs. They followed into oblivion the region's auto plants, tire factories, shipyards -- even, mostly, steel mills.
So it's been a long time since LA has been smokestack country.  But it still employs millions in the making of things.  How does that happen? Of course, hundreds of thousands of men and women labor on shop floors cutting and sewing clothing, processing food in the workshops surrounding downtown.  Spreading out on the Eastside lie the foundries and plating shops Most of these employees work for low wages, often under dire conditions. They compete with underpaid workers the world over.
But elsewhere, scattered from Wilmington to Santa Clarita and beyond , there are small operations doing some of the highest tech in the nation. They manifest the region's key industrial leadership.  Take Motivo Engineering.
It's a little workshop in a dense Torrance industrial park, just west of the 110, not too far from the sprawling parking lot from which the CHP sells its old cop cars.   Here, in a clean lofty shed, a bunch of highly-trained tech people have set up what one might describe as a nursery or even day care center for nascent technology.  You bring in the concept or the invention, and they can make it soar.
"Our intention is to activate great ideas and refine them,"  says Motivo CEO Praveen Penmetsa. Along with President Nate Schroeder and Chief Operating Officer Dean Banks, they are hosting an open house at their workshop. All three are basically veterans of Los Angeles' flourishing tech industries who decided it would be more fun to work together doing more interesting things.

If you have a concept, idea or even a crazy thought of some new development or other, Motivo  may be able to shape it up for you and actualize it.  Take their electric boat, for instance. Well, we know about those. There are those dumpy little tubs that serve the yachts and take you on the tours of Newport Harbor at about 5 miles an hour. Motivo's is a sleek, all-electric speedboat -- battery powered. It can go and has gone 47 miles an hour, right off Long Beach. It's been about a century since anyone took the idea of a fast electric powerboat seriously, and now here it is, brimming with 21st Century tech.

Some of their concepts reach ahead beyond today's needs into the anticible demands of tomorrow.  For instance, Penmetsa notes, now that all-electric cars are getting to be  a lot more popular, how are road service entities like AAA going to be able to deal with their owners' dead-battery calls? Clearly it's going to take more than 12-volt charger to jump-start a Nissan Leaf, let alone a Tesla roadster.
They've got the answer.  It's a hefty self-powered super-charger that fits in the bed of a pickup and which can, in a few minutes,  put enough juice in an all-electric's battery pack to get it shuffling to the next charging station. Similarly, on a micro scale,  for business travelers, Motivo's got a battery-filled flexible circuitry-filled  fabric attaché case strap that can recharge your I-phone 10 times. (No, it can't charge up your laptop).
Not all of the innovations are electric. There's a revolutionary-looking powered tricycle design, completed for a Silicon Valley startup, that leans over like a two-wheel cycle. This in theory at least avoids some of the deadly rollover hazards that have long afflicted 3-wheel street and all-terrain vehicles.

"A cool concept is only 20% of the engineering effort, the other 80% of the effort is in ensuring that the concept translates into something that can be built and assembled while still meeting the cost, performance, and schedule targets."

That 80%, Penmetsa says, is what Motivo provides.

(Small images credit: Motivo Engineering)