Vice president of e-mobility, Volkswagen Group of America
Big break: Landing engineering jobs out of college in motorsports, including on the team that won the 2012 Indianapolis 500
Matt Renna has already raced with Honda, stood on the winning podium at the Brickyard, helped Tesla launch the Model 3 and now runs e-mobility for Volkswagen Group of America.
But in his heart, he’s still “just the kid that liked to play with cars” who’s never minded getting his hands dirty.
The 34-year-old Southern California native has had what many would consider a full automotive career.
It began with him working his way through the University of California at Irvine as an auto mechanic while he pursued several engineering degrees, and it now finds him helping oversee Volkswagen of America’s launch of a family of at least three coming battery-electric vehicles, including the ID4 compact crossover this year.
Between those two seemingly disparate points, Renna took successful runs through motorsports — including working with Honda on its endurance racing program and later on the IndyCar program that won the Indianapolis 500 in 2012.
“At Honda, I kind of started out as a mechanical engineer in the development teams and then slowly transitioned into control systems and electronics, which is more my mother tongue,” Renna explained. “Having started programming as a young kid and being around computers and software, I gravitated towards control systems and electromechanical engineering, which is kind of a fusion between electrical and mechanical engineering.”
Being on the podium with Alexander Rossi when he won the Indy 500 in 2012 “was a cool moment,” Renna said.
Still in his mid-20s, Renna “decided that I had conquered everything that I’d set out to do in the motorsport industry” and turned his attention toward electric vehicles, joining segment pioneer Tesla.
Renna worked on Tesla’s Model S and Model X, and on the Model 3 programs in various capacities, he said, and was working on the Model Y program when Volkswagen came calling in 2018.
“What I’ve been doing for the past two years is to take the enthusiasm for changing the industry and working towards climate change and [reducing] our CO2 emissions, and coupling that with the knowledge gained about electric vehicles and the customers who buy them,” Renna said.
While there are vast differences between working at Tesla and working at the world’s largest automaker, Volkswagen, Renna said the mission is basically the same: fighting inertia.
“Inertia is inertia, and inertia is caused by the nature of the business,” he said. “We have supply chain of parts, we have lead times for development, we all have fixed amounts of cash that we’re working with, so the culture around dealing with that is different. But the intent for Volkswagen is actually the same as the intent for Tesla, and I think that creates some awareness and motivation.”
— Larry P. Vellequette