Clive Southwell is the UK and Ireland director at GreenFlux, an emobility software solutions company. He took on the role after decades of experience across the automotive and emobility sectors.
GreenFlux, based in Amsterdam, offer full-service software solutions to accelerate the pace at which charge point operators and mobility service providers can manage and scale their charging networks.
Having worked for years as a car salesman, Clive has a real passion for electric vehicles (EVs) and has overseen firsthand their transition from the fringes to the mainstream. He helped launch the Mitsubishi i-MiEV back in 2010 and later the G-Wiz.
In recent years, Clive has specialised in electric vehicle charging infrastructure and its accompanying technology through his consultancy, working with NewMotion, Allego and Enel X, to maximise the expansion of their charging operations.
EDs: How did your journey into the automotive industry begin?
I left school in 1977 with a plan in my mind to follow two elder cousins into the banking industry. I soon realised that this was not the career path I wanted, so having run a mobile disco from the age of 14 took my first step into sales in the very unconventional industry of professional sound and lighting.
This is an area where I worked for eight years. In this time, I learnt valuable lessons on not judging people by how they presented themselves. When the business convention was suit and tie, a guy visited our showrooms wearing a torn NATO sweater, jeans and boots. The established staff did not want to serve him and told me it was someone I could practice my sales skills on.
That person turned out to be Richard Branson, who had just brought his first nightclub, Heaven at Charing Cross. I ended up with an order for a completely new sound system, a long term customer and a nice commission.
EDs: What was your first job in the automotive sector?
My first job in the automotive industry was with a family-owned Ford Main Dealer, Gordons of Dulwich back in 1988. I can honestly say it was completely unplanned. After separating from my first wife I had quit my job and moved back to London. I saw an advertisement for a Sales Executive and, knowing I had a passion for cars and that I could sell, I applied.
Initially, I was turned down as I had no industry experience but a few days later got the call for an interview where I was asked that age-old question; “why should we employ you?”. My reply was to say that if I was not the top salesman within three months then I would leave. I got the job and stayed for three years until the company closed down.
EDs: What was it that appealed to you about the sector?
Back in the 1980s, the job as a car sales executive was a well paid and sought-after role with good people regularly earning £30,000-plus, so the industry attracted a high calibre of staff. It was an industry in which you worked hard but could also have plenty of fun along the way.
There was also the ability to progress on merit, not to mention being able to drive all the latest cars (my first company car was a Ford Capri which back then everyone aspired to). People that I still know in the industry now decry the fact that they are not attracting high-level candidates but when you see advertisements offering the same OTE as was on offer in 1988 you can see the reason.
EDs: What skills did you pick up from your work in automotive retail that have been useful in emobility?
Over my 23 years in the retail automotive industry, I learned a lot of transferable skills. I received a solid grounding in business management, learning how to write a budget, interpret and question accounts.
The early days of emobility saw many well-intentioned companies who wanted to do their bit for the planet fail as they did not understand the fundamental requirement to make a profit if you are to grow a business.
I speak to many startups even today who do not understand the requirement of being properly capitalised to prevent running out of cash which is the main reason for early business failure.
EDs: What did you learn about people skills?
People skills were another valuable asset I acquired. A wise man who gave me my first sales management role taught me that, contrary to popular belief, it is your staff, not your customers, who are most important to your business.
If you have recruited, trained and motivated your staff in the correct way, then they in turn will treat your customers in a way that will make them want to do business with you and remain as long term customers.
Have the wrong staff and you will lose customers faster than you can attract them. Surrounding yourself with good, competent, enthusiastic staff who believe in the journey that you are taking them on is vital to success.
On taking charge of a business I have always outlined to the staff what that journey was going to be so that they can decide if it is for them. It is key that your staff are on board.
EDs: What was it that initially kindled your interest in emobillity?
I was working for the Mitsubishi importer, Colt Cars Mid-West, happily driving my Shogun and Evo X when I was asked to help launch the Mitsubishi i-MiEV into the UK from the dealership in Putney.
I had a pre-launch demonstrator for six months and found that the commute from my home near Croydon to Putney was easily achievable. The drive and ride in traffic was smoother than anything I had driven before, although, you had to adapt to wearing a fleece rather than turning up the heating to save range.
The range was realistically 60/70 miles (95/113km) but it proved to me that electric vehicle’s were a viable alternative for city use and a valuable tool in fighting pollution.
My interest was boosted further when I joined Liberty Electric Cars as Group Operations Director. Here not only did we own the retailer of the G-wiz, Tazzari and Mia, Goingreen, but other companies such as LEC2 who looked after service and maintenance of Modec trucks across Europe.
This was for companies such as UPS, Fedex and Tesco who were dipping their collective toes into the EV pond for the first time. LEC2 was also at the forefront of innovation working on EV projects with Fiat, Michellin and VW, with whom we built a prototype electric van completely designed by our team.
EDs: What has changed in emobility since your time at Mitsubishi, in terms of the vehicles themselves and the market?
We have gone from super niche to mainstream. Over 20 manufacturers are now producing electric cars with more in the van, bus and truck sectors. Now, 200 miles plus (322km plus) is the average range of an EV, with many pushing or exceeding 300 miles (483km).
Charging has gone from a 13 amp socket providing 3.7kW per hour to availability of 350kW chargers and bus/truck chargers of 500kW and beyond. Instead of city cars, we now have vehicles that are practical for even the longest of journeys capable of taking the family without compromising comfort or space.
I remember driving the original Tesla Roadster and thinking that they would struggle to survive in the competitive marketplace. How wrong I was.
EDs: What led you into the charging infrastructure space?
When we launched i-MiEV at Mitsubishi, one thing that stuck in my mind was the company’s insistence that we ensured that each customer signed a disclaimer saying that we had explained how to charge the car, so if they used an extension lead and burnt down the house it was their fault.
I thought that there had to be a better solution, so when I moved to Liberty I discovered Rolec exhibiting at a caravan show. We discussed whether it was practical to make a version of the enclosure with a trip and 13 amp plug and the Wallpod came into being.
With the demise of Liberty in 2014 (the company, like Modec before them were too early for the market so struggled to raise capital) I led a staff buyout of the UK assets. I subsequently sold my shareholding to the staff who still operate the business today as Goingreen.
Having done this I set up a number of enterprises in the EV space, a company that imported niche commercial EVs, a company in Italy producing parallel hybrid technology and a consultancy. Since working as a consultant, I have worked exclusively in the charging space.
EDs: You’ve worked, in senior roles, for a number of UK charging infrastructure companies. What changes have you seen across these various roles?
I think that the main change has been the consolidation led mainly by utilities along with the oil and gas companies. This process has, I believe still a long way to go. The biggest change is the amount of funding now being made available.
Who would have thought five years ago that we would have a charger manufacturer listed on the Nasdaq: Shell, BP, Total and EDF all operating charge point operators (CPO’s) in the UK, and Enel, the world largest utility, buying a charger manufacturer and investing close to $1billion in infrastructure?
With this money comes responsibility and the industry is now much more professional in terms of its governance in areas such as cyber security as there is a greater understanding of where we as an industry fit into the bigger data picture.
I am pleased that a part of our business that is close to my heart; interoperability between networks, is beginning to gain traction in the UK. It was three years ago that Daniel Brown (then at the REA) and myself, put together a whitepaper on interoperability and what it could mean for the UK.
Those objectives of ease of access to all public charging for the driver, and importantly, increased utilisation of assets (so avoiding duplication by competing networks) still exist.
We are now starting to see co-operation between players similar to in mainland Europe and we are likely to see legislation mandating so sort of interoperability later this year. This progress is vital if fleets are going to be able to work effectively and we continue to see increased uptake from private motorists.
EDs: What then motivated you to take on the Director role at GreenFlux last year?
I was looking for a role that enabled me to really make a difference in the market and saw what GreenFlux were doing on the software side as significant. They had a great product development team in place. They believed completely in interoperability and had market leading “smart charging” capabilities and were about to become part of €10 billion DKV Mobility which would give them the financial ability to scale.
Without having “boots on the ground” in the UK, they already had some significant customers here and I was convinced that with GreenFlux technical ability along with my UK market knowledge, we could build something special in the market.
The move also fitted into where I saw the future value within EV charging.
EDs: How do you think the emobility sector will evolve over the next five years?
Over the next five years, I think that we will see increasing consolidation both in CPO’s where town centre hubs and on major routes and the market will be dominated by a mixture of the big utilities, who see this as a huge opportunity, and the oil and gas majors, who either adapt to a changing market or die.
There will be a role for local Government in providing charging in areas where a commercial operation would not make sense, some rural areas, and for destination charging which will become a “must-have” for hotels, shopping and tourist destinations but which make little commercial sense to the major CPO’s.
There will also be a major contraction in the number of emobility service providers (eMSP’s) where five or six players will dominate. It will become commonplace to have an account for your home electricity which is also an eMSP for your en-route charging. I would not be surprised to see the emergence of mobile phone operators as eMSPs as they already have the datacom and billing engines in place.
Chargers are already becoming commoditised with home wallboxes available on Alibaba for less than $100, so the commercial value will be in installation and software rather than manufacture and supply.
We are now starting to see Chinese companies increasingly entering the DC charger space as western companies struggle to increase supply to meet demand and to match cost with a market that leads in terms of both EV and charger production volume.
The gap in terms of quality has closed considerably and continues to narrow. They are now really pushing the market incumbents in Europe in terms of quality, price, the ability to supply and innovation.
Software such as our platform at GreenFlux will have an increasingly important role to play with “smart charging” being key to overcoming grid restraints and facilitating innovations such as “plug and charge” (already in play with Gridserve), interoperability between operators and the provision of data to enable better services for both drivers and operators.
Used EVs will increasingly become available and will move down the supply chain as used cars always have, further speeding the transition. Personally, I will be more excited about an electric Dacia Sandero coming to market than any number of sports cars because this is when we will have totally cracked the market.
EDs: What EVs have you owned and how have you seen them evolve in your long experience in the sector?
My first EV was a Mitsubishi i-MiEV followed by G-wiz, Tazzari and Mia then most of the mainstream models that have come along. I think a favourite is still the BMW i3, which despite the quirky rear doors was so well put together and had a turning circle like a London taxi.
I covered a 500 mile (805km) round trip from my home to Rotherham in one day in December 2020, which involved three charging/coffee/bathroom breaks. I now drive a Hyundai Kona Electric that offers greater range and increased charging speed, so that I can now do these long trips like it in one stop but usually go for a quick top up with coffee in each direction.
The easiest way to map the evolution is with the Nissan LEAF which started with a 22kW battery pack with an 80-mile (127km) range, increased in range then moved to a 40kW battery with a 168-mile (270km) range and more available with a 60kW battery and 239-mile (386km) range. It’s the same car with three times the range.
The other evolution is in charging protocols, where in Europe at least, we are getting standardisation on combined charging system (CCS). Standardisation will, however, reduce costs for both EV manufacturers and CPOs so one hopes this will benefit the driver.
I would sum things up by saying once people would stop you in the street to discuss your EV and you were considered weird for driving one. Now, they are just another car.
EDs: What would be your dream EV to drive and why?
Currently, my favourite EV is the Kia EV6 which I have driven. The only reason that I do not currently have one on the drive is that Onto who I lease my car from (an all-inclusive subscription service), do not currently have a deal with Kia.
It is in my opinion the most complete EV currently available in terms of range, 800v charging, good looking and has a great interior. Given the part of the country I live in and the journeys that I do for work, I would love something like a fully electric Land Rover Defender, so I have a while to wait for my dream even though at Liberty we had the E-Range in 2010.