Motiv Power Systems: This Company Builds Sophisticated Medium-Duty Box Trucks In Over A $450 Billion Market

By Amit Chowdhry ● Aug 1, 2023

Motiv Power Systems is a company that makes all-electric medium-duty box trucks, step vans, shuttle and school buses, specialty vehicles, trolleys, work trucks and even offers charging station support. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Motiv Power Systems founder and chief technology officer (CTO) Jim Castelaz to learn more.

Jim Castelaz’s Background

What Castelaz likes best about his role is that he gets to wear both hats and align their cutting-edge technology with the overarching mission of freeing fleets from fossil fuels. Castelaz said:

“I’m passionate about bringing ideas from both sides of the pendulum into one cohesive solution and working with the team toward one shared goal – whether it’s in strategic planning, tech road mapping or problem-solving for customers.”

Formation Of Motiv Power Systems

How did the idea for Motiv Power Systems come together? Castelaz shared:

“As I was pursuing my Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, I was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and eventually took a leave of absence to start Motiv. Two experiences came together to give me the initial spark to start Motiv. The first was seeing Martin Eberhart, Tesla founder, talk about doing Antilock Brake System testing on the first Tesla, the Roadster. He described how all the system complexity was in software – not hardware. Then, I did a class project looking into electric motorcycles and realized the best economic argument for going electric existed in the trucking space, where the cost of fuel was the highest percentage of the total lifetime cost of vehicle ownership. Putting those two ideas together, I saw a unique market opportunity to develop electric trucks with a software-first mentality and decided to start Motiv. After Motiv’s start, it has been a journey of working with various customers and making every generation of our electric trucks and buses better than the last generation.”

Favorite Memory

What has been Castelaz’s favorite memory working for Motiv Power Systems? Castelaz reflected:

“We launched our first product not long after I got married in 2012. I went eight days with only a few total hours of sleep getting ready for that launch. It was brutal, but in hindsight, it was a big moment for the company. Our early products were probably too far ahead of the market’s development, but the learning and customer relationships have earned us a leadership position in the electric truck market, despite not having any legacy fossil fuel business.”

“Other favorite memories were some early customer wins like our first electric school bus deployments, and grant project selections for the California Energy Commission – learning customers and government agencies were sufficiently aligned with Motiv to trust us with furthering their visions.”

Core Products

What are Motiv Power Systems’ core products and features? Castelaz explained:

“Medium-duty EVs are our bread and butter – box trucks, step vans, shuttle and school buses, specialty vehicles, trolleys, work trucks, and even charging station support. We’re incredibly proud to have the current leading technology stack for this particular weight class, with patented solutions to solve the unique weight and payload challenges that midsize commercial vehicles need.”

“We are freeing fleets from fossil fuels and introducing a level of energy independence to companies at the core of our economies. These businesses have been critically reliant on fossil fuels for decades, so although implementing EVs in the fleet is necessary, it can also be overwhelming. Most of our customers are experiencing EVs for the first time, so wherever we have vehicles deployed, we have boots on the ground. Our customer support representatives are always on hand to provide training, answer questions, and support customers through operational issues if required.”

Evolution Of Motiv Power Systems’ Technology

How has Motiv Power Systems’ technology evolved since launching? Castelaz noted:

“We’ve constantly upgraded and evolved our technology over time, taking into consideration core customer feedback and learnings along the way. Earlier this month, we announced our next-generation vehicles, which tackle key barriers to electrifying a commercial fleet: payload confidence, range anxiety and serviceability concerns. And we’ve done so in collaboration with our customers. The driver behind the wheel every day is our target – these vehicles are their office, their sales storefront and their break room. Eight or more hours a day – every day. Imagine how much better their day can be when the trucks they drive are built with their needs at the forefront. That’s how we approach innovation and product evolution at Motiv.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of Motiv Power Systems’ most significant milestones? Castelaz cited:

“Just this May, we launched our next-generation electric trucks for medium-duty fleets, which are built and engineered based on our previous generations to meet today’s fleet needs while embracing the latest EV technology. Our next-generation technology is all assembled with a far more efficient powertrain design with fewer parts, and includes a new motor and a new battery system made in partnership with Nidec and ONE, respectively. We’re excited to have already started rolling out our first shipments.”

Customer Success Stories

Upon asking Castelaz about customer success stories, Castelaz highlighted:

“May was a big month for our partnerships – as we launched two new announcements with Cintas Corporation and Carrier Transicold. We announced a new vehicle order from Cintas, the leader in diversified business services, for 30 additional advanced zero-emission all-electric delivery vans. The news came after Cintas’ successful pilot of seven Motiv-powered vehicles across three states in 2022. What’s more, this new order brought the number of Motiv-powered EVs in the Cintas fleet to 37 vehicles. Since the initial pilot, Motiv has helped Cintas reduce tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions by 37 metric tons.”

“Motiv was also proud to unveil our pilot of a fully integrated zero-emissions refrigerated truck featuring Carrier Transicold’s Pulsor eCool unit, one of Carrier’s newest refrigeration solutions for all-electric vehicles. We’re particularly excited about the fact that the technology will be fully integrated with Motiv’s drive system, creating the ideal solution for last-mile delivery and temperature-controlled electrification.”

Total Addressable Market

What total addressable market (TAM) size is Motiv Power Systems pursuing? Castelaz assessed:

“The medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicles market was valued at $300 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow to $480 billion by 2027, registering a CAGR of over 8% during the forecast period (2022 – 2027).”

“The market is booming partly due to new regulations requiring trucks to have zero emissions, federal tax breaks, gas price volatility, corporate sustainability initiatives, and consumer pressure. Many businesses are eager to transition to EVs and are in need of established vehicles that can service 2-6 ton payloads with the same reliability and an even better driving experience than traditional internal combustion engine trucks.”

“As more and more businesses electrify their vehicles, we’re excited about the market momentum and opportunity to help them every step of the way and build a future where fleets are free from fossil fuels.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates Motiv Power Systems from its competition? Castelaz revealed:

“Many mainstream EV and automotive companies have concentrated their work in the commercial vehicle space on standardized, small vans. Those small vans can reuse passenger car technology, but have limited payload and customization options. Traditional truck companies have focused at the other end of the weight spectrum on Class 8 long haul trucks. Electric trucks that can haul 2 to 6 tons of payload for an economical price are not that common of offerings in the market yet, so we differentiate with this exclusive product focus. This core of the medium-duty space is where Motiv excels – Class 4-6 commercial EVs with 2-6 ton payloads and configurable body styles utilizing multiple body builders. Small vans with a limit of 3,000 lbs (1.5 tons) payloads serve select business needs, but the supply chain often benefits from improved driver and operations efficiency if there is a greater payload to carry beverages, paper, metal, linens, foods, or construction supplies – whatever our customers need to move.”

“Our second differentiator – the one our customers always mention – is our superior customer support. We have a robust network of field technicians who are Motiv employees with the sole goal of making our customers successful. They are very instrumental in our success to-date and are highly appreciated by our fleet customers.”

Future Company Goals

What are some of Motiv Power Systems’ future company goals? Castelaz concluded:

“1 billion revenue miles. We measure our success in terms of our customers’ success. We only give ourselves credit for the vehicles we deliver to the extent they are used every day in commerce. This year, we plan to build another 250 medium-duty trucks for customers in the United States and Canada, essentially doubling annual output. It’s an aggressive but achievable growth curve. We’ve set production records in both of our last two quarters already this year!”

“Growing the medium-duty space is our main priority, as one of our mottos is to “build the future and deliver now.” Looking ahead, we’re excited about a future where food comes to your door and goods are delivered to your neighborhood store – without the emissions and noise of combustion engines.”

“Personally, I would also love to see more of our customers pair up our trucks with on-site solar so that they can run their fleets on sunshine. I recently visited a customer site where they now do this. That’s the kind of world I want to leave for my kids and something I am very proud to have Motiv contribute to.”

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