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Ajay Gnanasekaran’s nurturing next wave of EV battery experts as BattChallenge director

By Em Jankauski

Big change requires visionary leaders. Meet Ajay Gnanasekaran, Sr. Program Director for Battery Workforce Development. Gnanasekaran’s hoping to inspire big changes in the auto industry advocating for transportation electrification as he leads the Battery Workforce Challenge, an elite three-year collegiate engineering competition tasking 12 North American universities and their vocational school partners to design, build, test and integrate an advanced electric vehicle battery pack for Stellantis’ 2024 Ram ProMaster EV. The competition is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and Stellantis and managed by Argonne National Laboratory.

Ajay Gnanasekaran, Sr. Program Director for Battery Workforce Development, presents at the Battery Workforce Challenge Year One Competition’s Awards Ceremony held May 9 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.

Gnanasekaran joined the ranks at Argonne National Laboratory’s Sustainable Transportation Education and Partnerships department in early 2024. Here he leads the program’s comprehensive workforce development program aimed at building a domestic workforce to support in-demand jobs in battery manufacturing and engineering. 

Prior to joining the BattChallenge, Gnanasekaran served as vice president of Vietnamese EV manufacturer Vinfast’s Product and Operations department in the Battery Research and Development Institute and VinES Energy Solutions, the battery development and manufacturing arm of its corporate owner Vingroup, leading a 57-person team supporting battery cell development, pilot production and equipment manufacturing.

Before Vinfast, Gnanasekaran was the director of strategy for Panasonic Energy of North America’s Project Management Office. Here he oversaw 18 program managers and PENA’s operations at its Reno gigafactory.

Gnanasekaran holds a bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering from Anna University and a master’s in business administration from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. During his master’s program, Gnanasekaran competed in EcoCAR 2, a former Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition, serving as the team’s project manager. 

He brings a wealth of knowledge about battery manufacturing to the position as well as a strong appreciation for the educational value of the AVTC program that started his professional career. 

We recently sat down with Gnanasekaran in a fun Q&A. Check it out.


Ajay Gnanasekaran is all smiles posing with spouse Marli Gnanasekaran at the Battery Workforce Challenge Year One Awards Ceremony held May 9 at the Palmer House Hilton.

Q: What is your favorite part of your role as the Sr Program Director for Battery Workforce Development?
“My favorite part of being the Sr Program Director for Battery Workforce Development is the opportunity to be in the forefront and influence and shape the future of the industry by nurturing the emerging generation of talent. Seeing young engineers and students grow, innovate and push the boundaries of what is possible with battery technology. Knowing I played a part in their development is incredibly rewarding.

Q: What fuels your passion for pushing the boundaries of battery technology, especially within the automotive industry?
“It stems from the crucial role it plays in advancing sustainable transportation. The challenge of enhancing energy density, reducing charging times, improving safety and lowering costs drives innovation and fuels a desire to overcome these technical hurdles, contributing to a cleaner, more sustainable future.”

Q: Can you share your vision for nurturing the next wave of EV battery experts?
“My vision for nurturing the next wave of EV battery experts involves creating an educational ecosystem offering experiential /practical experiences that covers the entire value stream of battery technology from raw material supply chain to recycling. Deployment of this will be through student competitions, workforce center of excellence and hubs, and STEM programs.”

Ajay Gnanasekaran gives a thumb’s up while checking out the 2024 Ram ProMaster EV during Stellantis’ vehicle reveal at the Battery Workforce Challenge’s Winter Workshop held March 7 at the Kingsley Hotel in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Q: If you could offer a piece of advice to a younger version of yourself or someone starting their career, what would it be?
“Don’t be afraid to take the path less travelled. It is very easy to get influenced by your friends and peers on what to study, what career to pursue, etc. Define your own success metrics and follow that. American author Zig Ziglar said it best: ‘Success is not a destination, it’s a journey.’”

Q: As an EcoCAR alumnus, what would you say to current AVTC team members about how these competitions ultimately fuel their futures in the industry?
“To current AVTC team members, I would say that these competitions are invaluable in preparing you for your future in the industry. They offer a unique opportunity to tackle real-world problems, work in multidisciplinary teams and network with industry leaders.

“The skills, experiences and connections you gain here will fuel your career and may open doors to opportunities you never imagined. Embrace every challenge and learning opportunity these competitions provide, as they are the steppingstones to a successful and fulfilling career in the automotive and battery technology fields.

Q: Finally, to add a bit of fun to the mix, could you share a unique fact about yourself?
“I am a percussionist. I have performed at the London Olympics 2012 cultural stage and world percussion festival in Rio De Janeiro Brazil. I am a hardcore foodie, and my favorite dish is the South Indian Briyani.

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