Julie Ibara got behind the wheel of a Volkswagen before she turned 10.
That joyride, which she insists was well below the speed limit, ended in a minor crash into a support beam of a home in Hawaii, where she grew up. Her father and grandfather both worked in a sugar mill on the island. Ibara has vivid memories of watching molasses spin and riding in cane trucks.
With a love for automobiles and a familiarity with factory operations, Ibara set down a path that led her to being the plant manager of ElectraMeccanica Vehicles Corp.’s Mesa assembly and technical center. The fact that she is part of the team building a brand-new product was appealing to her. But coupled with her playing an integral role in the launch of ElectraMeccanica’s operations in Mesa made that job the perfect fit for an adrenaline junkie like herself. The company is now based in Mesa.
Knowing her passion from a young age, Ibara pursued a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California. She continued that education with an automotive technology certificate, which led her to a job as a manufacturing engineer at a heavy-duty truck transmission plant. Ibara pursued her MBA during that time.
Ibara set a goal of becoming a plant manager, so she diversified her skills beyond mechanical engineering. While that field taught her knowledge of how the infrastructure of a facility works to what kind of capital equipment is needed at the plant, she also spent time working as a materials handler to learn material flow, delivering materials to assembly lines and improving efficiency, There, Ibara became very familiar with the letters KPI, which stands for key performance indicators.
Quality and production are the final ingredients that make up an assembly plant. Putting together each of those skills and experiences, Ibara accepted a job with the upstart ElectraMeccanica, having managers in each of the four disciplines who report to her.
“Without all of those four, it’s impossible to run a productive and efficient assembly plant,” Ibara said.
She started with ElectraMeccanica in May 2021. At the time, the company’s assembly and technical center on Loop 202 and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport was just a piece of dirt. Ibara remembers a groundbreaking about a week after she started. In the summer of 2022, she got the keys to the 235,000-square-foot facility where she currently oversees 14 employees. In the short term, that number is expected to grow to 40-50 people who will assemble ElectraMeccanica vehicles.
Her team has a goal of building ElectraMeccanica’s 2023 model of the Solo in the U.S., which is a single-seat, three-wheel electric vehicle.
What’s coming for ElectraMeccanica in 2023? We live and breathe building things. We can’t wait to get our hands on the next vehicle we’re going to be assembling here in Mesa. In the meantime, we’re getting ourselves ready. It’s the building processes, building equipment, ordering and making sure the equipment comes in and is functional. We’re doing everything we can to be ready for the day when we roll vehicles off of our assembly line. We’re chomping at the bit for that.
What could we find in your office? I have a safety [blow-up] gator that the Willmeng Construction Inc. team gave to me. He has glasses and a safety vest on. Typically I have USC paraphernalia around, but today I have University of Wisconsin things around — I’m a college football fan. I do have a couple of fun things in my desk like snacks in the drawer. … Every once in a while somebody won’t be feeling well and might need a protein bar. This is my family so I have whatever I need to take care of my family.
What do you like to do when you’re not managing the plant? It’s a pretty demanding job and career to be in manufacturing. Being in a new building for a startup while launching a new vehicle does take a lot of time, so I don’t do too much at this point outside of work. I have a dog, Little Girl, so we go walking and hiking a bit on weekends. I like to go to the Desert Botanical Garden. I have visitors once in a while. … College football is the main thing, though.
What else would you like readers to know about you? As a leader, you’re responsible for people and their welfare. I usually tell my folks that for us to be a functioning team, there are three things you have to do: belief, care and commit. Those are three things we need to bring every day to make sure our team functions well. It is my responsibility to make sure I’m the most prepared as I can be. … It’s always a fun challenge and you get knocked down, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward. That’s what having a great team helps you do.