“The automotive industry is being driven by huge technology shifts, by digital transformation and innovation, it’s at the heart of shaping how we all live and travel,” says Catherine Faiers, Chief Operations Officer (COO) at Auto Trader who splits her working week between the company’s London and Manchester offices. “The industry has a huge role to play in building a more sustainable future for all of us and that’s why I’m so excited to be part of it.”
According to Catherine, 2021 represented a real tipping point for EV consumers, manufacturers, fleet operators and industry players: “Interest in EVs skyrocketed, the number of people looking at new electric cars on Auto Trader has more than doubled and one in five of all new car buyers are now considering an electric vehicle. So EVs have become a meaningful part of the choice for consumers and of operations for the industry in a really mainstream way.” That’s due to a number of factors, including the 2030 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars, more low emissions zones, a rise in EVs entering the market, all of which increases consumer choice and growing public awareness of sustainability.
That real shift really hit home for Catherine while she was watching her young son play in the garden last year: “He was driving his red and yellow Little Tikes toy car around, he carefully parked it up and started prodding the wall – he told me he was plugging it in to charge and I realised that this next generation of future drivers just won’t know any different…”
Of course, the transition to low-carbon transport has its challenges, and Catherine feels strongly that the industry terminology around EVs needs to be demystified: “It can be quite confusing, complex and sometimes quite a frustrating experience, people have lots of unanswered questions and so we need to work hard to close that information gap.” EVs also need to be democratised to make them more accessible to everyone, says Catherine who predicts price parity with ICE vehicles by about 2025.
There has been a big shift since Catherine joined Auto Trader in 2017 towards greater diversity at all levels within the company. At the most senior level, the PLC board is a refreshing example of that, with women making up a majority. “There’s no reason why we should be aiming for 50:50 in terms of gender diversity given that it has been so skewed the other way for so long, why shouldn’t it be the other way round?!” she explains.
She’s proud of the firm’s long established women’s network, the BAME network (Building a Multicultural Environment) network and diverse talent pipeline. Auto Trader has focused on early careers programmes and initiatives to attract returners, in addition to the diverse talent accelerator programme which supports and mentors people throughout the organisation to give them the confidence to take on that next big career move. While there are no silver bullets, she insists that this sort of consistent and focused effort over many years should be an essential part of any successful business strategy.
“It’s completely obvious that businesses should reflect the consumers, the communities, the stakeholders that they represent – most businesses don’t today and we’re all trying to find the best possible solutions to achieve that,” says Catherine, an economics graduate who then worked as an accountant and at an investment bank helping businesses in the digital space raise money. Next, she worked for Tra , shaping their strategy and driving change before starting in the fleet industry about a decade ago with Addison Lee. Throughout her varied career, two things have remained constant. She has focused on working with people she believes she’ll learn from and enjoy working with, and she has always been attracted to working in industries that are experiencing big change or being disrupted in some way, where exciting things will always happen!
She is passionate about working for organisations that are proactively building inclusive cultures: “Find the leaders or managers who will support you to be the best version of yourself, whatever that may be. Don’t compromise. Find the right organisation for you….it’s really worth the wait.”
And although the wider industry is still lacking diversity in all its forms, she encourages people wanting to break into the EV sector to be themselves above all else: “Everyone should celebrate their difference because that means they’ll be able to contribute something different and fresh to the business.”
“Here at Auto Trader, there’s a group of brilliant people who are passionate about electric cars who are determined to make a positive impact and we’re in a position to do that by changing how the UK buys cars,” she adds. “I genuinely can’t imagine a more exciting industry to be working and driving change in right now.”