Arwed Niestroj, SVP E-Mobility and Product
Arwed brings a deep, rich, and impressive history in automotive leadership and innovation to his current role accelerating Sakuu’s rapid advancement in the e-mobility and battery sectors with their pioneering 3D printed battery program and battery chemistries.
Arwed Niestroj hails from Germany, where he attended the Technical University of Munich. He says, “I’m a physicist by education, and studied nuclear physics actually, but found that industry is more interesting than theory.”
After completing his master’s degree in Technical and Nuclear Physics, he started his career at Mercedes-Benz Group gravitating straight toward Research and Development (R&D).
He worked on new technologies for commercial vehicles for a few years, then worked in manufacturing planning, manufacturing site selection in Europe, overseeing strategic manufacturing projects with consultants and leading the group’s cost assessments, planning, and strategic decision-making for the larger organization. He was also driving the powertrain manufacturing synergies of the Daimler-Chrysler merger which, at that time, was the company’s first transatlantic merger and the start of a strategic realignment aimed at extending the core businesses globally, supplementing them with new products and services, and improving competitive position concentrated on global product portfolio, platform efficiencies and profitable growth.
Arwed recalls that “the work became international very quickly.” His next role was as Chief of Staff for the R&D board member of Mercedes, who was running an 11,000-person team in a 280,000-person company. He contributed to shaping Mercedes’ electrification strategy in these early days of electric vehicles.
Next, Arwed waded into spearheading electric vehicle development, developing hybrid power trains in collaboration with General Motors, Chrysler and BMW in Detroit and fuel cell electric vehicles, from development all the way to managing customer fleet operations. He was eventually put in charge of Daimler’s whole fuel cell testing and the development of global hydrogen infrastructure, he says. “It was a very, very broad role, based in R&D, but actually running the whole lifecycle of the product — from research to development, to making it, to putting it out on the road, and having customers run the vehicles… all the way to making sure customers could fuel hydrogen somewhere.”
The peak of this activity was a project Arwed managed called the F-Cell World Drive. “That was impressive,” Arwed recalls, “I set up a 125-day event having members of the press drive around the planet with the cars we developed. We planned the whole route, put up hydrogen gas stations in the deserts of Kazakhstan and in the Australian Outback…failure was not an option.”
This may sound reminiscent of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s arduous Long Way Up road trip and Apple TV series wherein “Obi-Wan” and his lifelong pal drive prototype electric Harley-Davidson motorcycles all the way from the tip of Tierra Del Fuego to Los Angeles with crew-support trucks supplied by Rivian.
But it was even tougher than that: “Now, the difference is they have battery power and electricity everywhere. We didn’t have any hydrogen anywhere. And we had the press posting online while driving our vehicles. Logistics to and in every country was different, bringing 20 vehicles, 40,000 pounds of material on trucks, and across oceans in cargo airplanes! So, it was an amazing and rewarding project.”
After his successful globe-trotting adventure, Arwed was asked to build a 50-50 electric motor joint venture between Mercedes Benz and Bosch with two co-CEOs in Germany set up from scratch. “We built this over three years to €140 million revenue. I was sort of sent by Mercedes into the Bosch world to develop electric motors with them and build the business supplying to Mercedes and all Bosch customers.”
“And then I was asked to become CEO of Mercedes R&D in North America, which comprises all the R&D activities in the United States — about $200 million roughly yearly revenue— all the way from diesel emission testing to artificial intelligence and smart electric vehicles, testing on all the roads (and definitely in cold areas of Minnesota) to user experience design, user interaction design, software design, and also vehicle styling.”
After six years in CEO roles, Arwed decided against going back to Germany and chose to stay in the US — and the tech world.
“I didn't see myself going back into a big organization,” he says. “I wanted to be in an entrepreneurial role. I spent a year at ZF Group, a $13 billion tier-1 automotive supplier that had acquired TRW. When I was still at Mercedes, I was one of the 16 members of the whole company who defined our digital transformation strategy and took the lead of core activities for innovative startup-minded strategy in the organization globally. That brought me to ZF to lead global innovation and digital transformation for them out of Silicon Valley. It was there that I started to engage with Sakuu.”
After developing a relationship with Sakuu founder Robert Bagheri, Arwed became increasingly “convinced that the technology we have here is really going to make a big difference.” What stood out to him was that Sakuu’s innovative process doesn’t suffer from the shortcomings that plague other concepts and manufacturing methods. It enables speed and scale and reduces cost. It can change the electrification of vehicles, reduce the cost of batteries, allow for customizable shapes, and — importantly — make them safer and more sustainable.
Arwed initially joined Sakuu as COO and with significant growth of the company has since shifted to focus on the battery as SVP for E-Mobility and Products, because as he says “making batteries is nontrivial and key to Sakuu’s success” — and he loves nothing more than a challenge.
Arwed’s experience and insight elevate our value as innovators in the field. And his vision for Sakuu aligns perfectly with our mission as a company, as he neatly summed up in this interview with 3DPI editor-in-chief Michael Petch, “We envision the end customer, the product user, intentionally seeking products that have Sakuu batteries inside because of what our products stand for: leading performance, ultimate safety, and critical sustainability benefits.”