Bill Rankin hesitates to call himself a pessimist –— he prefers “realist” — but he readily admits to thriving as an underdog.
The company he heads, Frederick-based UQM Technologies Inc., has long been a “little guy” in the giant world of the automotive market. UQM actually started in 1967 fabricating fiberglass components for aircraft and kit automobiles. The company dabbled in the electric vehicle market in the late 1970s, but its main business was providing smaller electric motors for vehicle components and low-volume production for military and other specialty vehicles.
While not the founder of UQM, Rankin has used his entrepreneurial spirit to lead the company into a new era of its operations. Rankin joined UQM in 1992 as executive vice president, was promoted to president in 1996 and to CEO in 1999. His background as the chief of the Weapon System Simulation and Technology Division at the U.S. Army’s Rock Island Arsenal in Iowa has proved useful, as the company has counted the military as a major customer over the years. His manufacturing experience, garnered at Deere & Co., has been of utmost value for UQM and will soon become even more crucial.
In August 2009, the company landed a $45.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to ramp up its manufacturing capabilities. The grant matches UQM’s capital investments for the Coda Automotive program.
UQM entered a supply agreement with California-based Coda to provide a propulsion system for Coda’s electric car. The 10-year agreement calls for 20,000 units in the first two years after the vehicle is launched.
Rankin said that he was dubious about even applying for the grant, because the Department of Defense had indicated that four to seven component manufacturers would be selected.
“We thought we’d be upstaged by the big guys,” he explained. But because UQM is a publicly traded company (AMEX:UQM), Rankin knew he had a responsibility to the shareholders to at least try.
UQM definitely found itself among the “big guys.” Other awards went to General Motors, Ford, Delphi and Magna International.
So far, the grant has allowed the company to purchase a new facility, which it plans to occupy this summer. Once all of the manufacturing lines are running at full capacity, UQM plans to have 400 employees.
On April 30, UQM hosted Vice President Joe Biden at the still-under-construction plant. The company was selected to highlight what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was intended to accomplish.
“Here at UQM, they get it,” the vice president said. “We’re proud to act as a catalyst for companies like UQM Technologies.”
Rankin added that it is orders, not stimulus dollars, that create jobs.
Even with all the accolades, Rankin remains grounded in UQM’s longtime focus: providing advanced electric motor technologies. He admits that the company is receiving a lot more attention now from other large companies, and he hopes to see some deals come out of that. But for now, it’s one step at a time.
“Now, we’re just heads-down, executing,” Rankin said.