Karl Anders is the Managing Director of Mer UK – Statkraft’s electric vehicle (EV) charging business. His career in the automotive sector spans strategy, sales, marketing, fleet and dealer operations in the UK and overseas.
After four years as Nissan’s National EV Manager he went on to spend seven years in transport strategy at the Energy Saving Trust. Here he consulted on sustainable and zero emission transport to industry on behalf of government bodies Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) and Department for Transport (DfT).
Karl’s mission is to scale up Mer’s operations and build first class sustainable EV charging for the UK market, with the goal of driving the rapidly burgeoning EV sector.
EDs: Can you tell us a little about your history and how you ended up in the emobility space?
My history originally starts within the car industry going back over 30 years working for manufacturers Hyundai, Vauxhall, Saab and Chevrolet.
I started working with sustainable fleets back in 2007 while at the Energy Saving Trust where I worked on behalf of DFT and OLEV, which is now OZEV. That’s where I got involved with the analysis and business consultancy work to promote low-emission vehicles and reduce the carbon footprint of vehicles.
This led to an increased focus on electric vehicles as the most deployable commercial solution for most transport applications in the foreseeable future. So, in 2014 I moved back into the manufacturing sector as the National EV Manager at Nissan GB. In those days we celebrated when a fleet ordered five LEAF or e-NV200s as it took a lot of hard work because of the huge amount of reluctance in fleets and leasing companies who still did not think EVs would work in volume.
Back then, diesel was king, especially in the fleet world, and there were limited EV models. Plus, there was no public charging infrastructure.
After a lot of hard graft in a tough industry, we had started the market for mass uptake of EVs. It became clear the fledgling infrastructure network was the next major roadblock that needed focus, so I moved into EV infrastructure when I founded and ran Innogy, which we sold in December 2021. Ultimately, I joined Mer in August 2022.
EDs: What does your current role at Mer entail?
As the group managing director for the UK, I lead and support the team in the Mer group companies in the UK. It’s a young company and it’s been growing exponentially. It’s my job to take our great team of excellent experienced people through the gears to evolve from what was a modest operation into the major market player it has now become.
EDs: How important are fleets when it comes to helping with the adoption of EVs?
Fleets are absolutely essential for the adoption of EVs. It’s the largest channel for new vehicles in the UK as more new vehicles are sold into fleet than retail. Also, they turn over faster, so in terms of driving and building the number of electric vehicles within the UK car parc, fleet is the main engine driving this growth.
More new cars within fleets creates a lot more used cars in the market. It is important to have vehicles at different stages of ownership, not every customer needs a brand-new expensive vehicle.
EDs: How do you see Mer developing over the next five years?
As we go through the gears, the company will continue to develop and grow rapidly. In 18 months we grew from 10 people to over 110 across several companies. That rate of growth takes you into new territory in terms of the kind of organisation you are.
I see the next five years shaping up as one of continued growth; a lot more people and a much higher market share and, basically, a happy team that is performing highly. We have to look after our people, both our employees and our customers, to avoid some of the growing pains we’ve seen other companies go through.
EDs: How do you think the world of electric cars will develop over this time?
EVs are going to develop exponentially over the next five years. Just look back at the previous four or five years. There’s been a huge expansion in models from those early vehicles.
Within five years EVs will be the norm, especially as government regulations drive uptake. There will be a major behavioural change and people won’t even think of them as ‘electric vehicles’ but just as cars and vans. I mean, no one mentions a ‘camera phone’ anymore, do they?
EDs: What role will charging play in this and how do you see it developing?
Charging will play a major role in the behavioural change, especially public charging. The early adopters seven or eight years ago would only be able to charge at home.
Now, we’re seeing a more mainstream take up of EVs and people are using them for different things and different kinds of journeys. So, people will no longer just be charging at home but will expect to be able to charge en route or wherever their vehicles are stationary, at a leisure centre, retail park or work.
EDs: Will we see this rolled out in a different format to the current petrol station model?
I think the model will be very different. You’re limited to buying petrol and diesel at fuel stations, but electricity is everywhere. There may be hubs in high-traffic areas like motorways but people’s behaviour will change as they’re able to recharge in many more places.
The model will be much more multidimensional and over time people will wonder why we ever put up with having to drive to a fuel station en route.
EDs: How important is the future of charging in the commercial vehicle sector?
Again, commercial vehicle charging is crucial to the whole EV sector. The most expensive thing about a commercial vehicle is not the fuel cost or depreciation, it’s the driver and the amount of time it’s not in motion, generating income.
A commercial vehicle that’s off the road has a large cost. So it’s absolutely essential that the company gets the balance right between depot charging and en route charging.
EDs: How will charge times change for all vehicles in the coming years?
That’s going to come down to technology because at the moment most vehicles charge at a 400-volt system. If that increases to 800-volt and faster charging systems, the charger will do more and charge times will come down.
However, charge times will be limited by the lower rate of the vehicle or the charger. As technology develops, we’ll see great advances in charge times, I’m certain.
EDs: Is the current charging speed more of a vehicle issue than an infrastructure issue?
This follows on from my previous answer. It’s both really, and there are other variables involved. If I put a 50kW-enabled car on a 150kW charger, it will charge at the lower of the two.
If I’ve got a low battery, it will charge quickly, but if my battery’s nearly full it will charge at a slower rate. Ultimately, charging speed comes down to the vehicle, charging infrastructure, battery level and people’s behaviour.
EDs: Currently, what do you see as the biggest barriers when it comes to the transition to EVs?
The main barrier, as I see it, is perception. We’ve actually got more chargers out there than petrol stations, but a lot are under-utilised. It’s a very simple fear of running out of fuel which is the same for petrol and diesel.
Once people try an EV, they generally don’t want to go back, so will find a way to overcome the fear. Another barrier is the VAT difference between home charging at 5% and public charging which is 20%, which doesn’t help.
EDs: What do you think are the biggest factors in the mass uptake of electric vehicles?
There’s much greater recognition of the health benefits of removing tailpipe emissions. There’s also a generational shift. An older generation that is used to petrol and diesel may be more reluctant to give the perceived convenience up.
The younger generation brought up to believe in a greener, cleaner message will see EVs as something advanced and high-tech. Even down to the dashboard in an EV. What’s with all the analogue dials when you can see everything on a screen?
EDs: What does the future of transport look like to you?
The future of transport will inevitably change to far lower emission generating pattern and vehicles. That’s going to include shipping, air transport, rail and freight as well.
Some of the heavier transport needs may be powered by hydrogen as a ‘transit fuel’ until they go electric, with electric vehicles making up the final mile delivery much earlier. There will still be people who want to travel for fun, so there will still be sports cars, motorbikes, etc.
EDs: What EV do you drive and why?
I drive a Nissan Ariya. 100% electric, very cutting edge with very long range. It’s really well-built and highly equipped. Plus, it looks like something Darth Vader would drive. And it’s very spacious for my dog who loves it.
EDs: Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself leading the most admired electric vehicle charging organisation in the UK, with a strong, excited, motivated and performing team in a world that has embraced EVs. So, basically right here turned up to 11.