Born and raised in Soko state, Nigeria, Jelani won a 4-year scholarship and moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1990 to study auto design at the College for Creative Studies. During this time, he won two design awards from both Ford Motor Company and Michelin.
In 1994, he began his career with the design staff of General Motors, the world’s largest automobile maker, and initially worked on the Buick Rendezvous and the Pontiac G6. In 1997, he participated in a 10-month auto engineering competition that he won, and it was here that he developed a hybrid, eco-friendly vehicle that uses a gas engine to produce additional electricity.
That vehicle was the Chevrolet Volt, voted by the U.S. EPA in 2014 as the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the market, using electrical power from a battery plus gasoline of just 3.8L/100 km.
Since 2010, more than 150,000 units have been sold in the United States and Canada making the Chevrolet Volt cumulatively the best-selling plug-in electrified vehicle in both countries – outselling other electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S.
It almost didn’t happen
What is interesting about Jelani’s story is that he had originally planned to study architecture, but a scholarship from the Sokoto state government changed his plans. Many people, including General Motors, are glad he did! To them, he is a super star!
In fact, his knowledge, skills and hard work have been well-recognized by the auto industry.
And thanks to him, the Chevy Volt has won several prestigious auto awards, including the 2009 Green Car Vision Award, 2011 Green Car of the Year, 2011 North American Car of the Year, 2011 World Green Car, 2012 European Car of the Year, and 2016 Green Car of the Year.
Watch his interview below: