Modern Fleet talks to Volta Trucks’ Chief Communications Officer Duncan Forrester about having Ayrton Senna and Elon Musk.round for dinner and how working for a start-up is both challenging and rewarding
Favourite holiday destination?
The Maldives. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a number of times and proposed to my wife there, so it holds a very special place in our hearts.
What car do you drive?
Volvo XC60 hybrid as the family wagon for the university runs, a MINI Cooper as the run around, and an Austin Healey 3000 that’s currently coming from the US, that I’m pondering converting to electric.
How and when did you get into this industry? (with regards to EV work)
I started racing dragsters with my father when I was 10, so cars and automotive have always been in the blood. I went from school into dealer life, then national sales companies for BMW and Volvo before working for Volvo in Gothenburg as Global Head of Product and Brand Communications. I was part of the team that designed the company’s future electrification strategy that’s now coming to fruition. After a period at McLaren Automotive, I was part of the leadership team that developed the start-up Polestar brand, and now I’m working with the electrification of large commercial vehicles with Volta Trucks. Its very rare that you get the chance to work with your passion, and I feel proud to have operated at the cutting edge of the transition from ICE to electrification for over a decade.
How can we encourage more people into the industry? (with regards to EVs)
By showing them that automotive is now much more about technology and electronics, that the younger generations especially are interested in and aspire to, rather than the heavy, dirty engineering of the past. Also, start-up electric vehicle companies offer far more diversity of role tasks and expansion of your working horizons than the existing OEMs have historically done with their very well and long established job roles. eMobility is much more than just about the vehicles, and this brings a plethora of opportunities and different skill sets that are needed.
What are your industry predictions for the next 12 months? (with regards to EVs)
It’s clear that the adoption of electric passenger cars is accelerating well, and that will continue. However, in my view, the single blocker is the maturity of the public charging network, especially for those without driveways to park and change their own vehicles, so we need to see concrete delivery of a reliable public charging network to accelerate EV adoption, not just promises for the future. In commercial vehicles, at Volta Trucks, we will have customer vehicles operating on the city streets of Europe early next year. However, UK legislation banning ICE trucks from 2035-2040 isn’t aggressive enough to deliver the same rapid adoption in trucks as we see in passenger cars today. In France, they’re banning diesel-engine trucks from the streets of Paris at the end of 2023 – just 20 months away. That’s how you accelerate the use of electric trucks, and at the same time, arrest the climate change emergency and tackle the poor air quality issues that city centres experience.
What is the strangest or most challenging job you have done?
I’m not sure about the strangest but the most challenging (and ultimately enjoyable) have all been within start-up electrification companies. You start with a blank sheet of paper and with a close-knit team, you have to plot your future journey together. You are conscious that you’re almost certainly making mistakes along the way, but nobody has written the rule-book of an experienced OEM. You know what the ultimate destination and success looks like, then you take decisions, your test the outcomes, and you iterate, all to plot your path towards success. Working in a start-up is certainly challenging but it’s also the most rewarding, because you’re exposed to a multitude of areas that you’d never see in a legacy company, and ultimately, the sense of pride and satisfaction when you see a vehicle driving down a road that you and your teams have had a (small) hand in delivering is indescribable.
If you had your time again would you have followed the same career path?
If you had been reincarnated, who or what do you think you were in a past life?
A farmer. I used to spend my summers as a kid on a family friend’s farm in Dorset and when I’m not working with, on or for something with four wheels, there’s nothing I enjoy more than being out in the fresh air.
If you could invite four people to a dinner party – living or dead – who would they be – and why?
- Ayrton Senna. I undertook work experience at McLaren at 18 in the year of Prost and Senna, and was lucky enough to meet them on a few occasions. Senna’s motivation and passion to win still drives me today.
- Winston Churchill. I’d really like to better understand how, against all the odds, his belief powered him through, to see that no matter how bad things got, success was achievable.
- Elon Musk. His biography was a fascinating read, and I’d really like to understand where his vision and total-and-undivided self-belief comes from.
- My Father. He was a diplomat at Number 10 Downing Street before having a career in banking. He’s the reason for my passion for everything automotive as well as an interest in politics, so I think we’d both share the same interest in the discussion around the table.
What are your passions outside the workplace?
I really enjoy politics as elements of it have a significant impact on my day job. When I put my laptop and phone down completely, which isn’t often enough, I really enjoy gardening, walking the dogs in the countryside, and being a Dad to two older teenage daughters. And I’m really looking forward to the arrival of the Austin Healey 3000 from the US that’ll get my mechanical brain ticking again.
If they made a film about your life who would play you?
As a PR professional, your job is to promote your boss and Executive colleagues, not yourself. If somebody was to make a film about me, I’ve probably not been doing my job very well!
Describe yourself in five words?
In no particular order – thoughtful, creative, loyal, optimistic, team-player.