Q&A: Modern Fleet talks to Mark Barrett, general manager, Harris Maxus


Harris Maxus’ general manager Mark Barrett on driving from China to Dublin, dinner with Kim Jong-un and how customers have changed from thinking EVs are expensive to wondering what the resale value of a new diesel van might be?

Favourite holiday destination?

No debate here: for me, it’s got to be a driving holiday in the US where I get to enjoy the freedom and exhilaration of travelling from state to state.  No two states are the same, which is part of the fascination, and I can’t wait to get back

What car do you drive

I’m very fortunate as I get to try out a lot of different vehicles and what I drive can change from week to week.

I recently enjoyed the comfort of a Land Rover Discovery and from our own stable, the MAXUS G10.  As it so happens, I’m driving an electric van this week, the MAXUS eDELIVER3.  It’s a brilliant drive and the only way you really get to know your own products is by getting behind the wheel.

How and when did you get into this industry?

When I was working in a bar during the summer in my student years, it was suggested to me, possibly because of my personality and interests, that I should consider going into the motor trade. A customer, who was also a barrister, arranged an interview for me with a Toyota dealership called Carroll & Kinsella and more than 25 years later, I’ve never looked back.

Working with a brand like MAXUS means that you don’t actually look back; you always have your focus on the future and that means electric and alternative fuel vehicles. We launched our first EV in 2016, the EV80 and, since then, we have launched two brand new platform, all-electric vans, the MAXUS eDELIVER3 and the eDELIVER9 and have transitioned from LDV to MAXUS – and all during a global pandemic.

I’m hugely interested in the innovation behind EVs and I am involved in the research and development of new products, which also means regular liaison with SAIC MAXUS, the OEM in China. It’s very exciting looking ahead to what’s next for MAXUS and indeed, the EV industry in general.

How can we encourage more people into the industry? 

I believe that this is a great time to get into the motoring industry as we are entering a new golden (or perhaps green) age of motoring, with markets around the world collectively transitioning to EV. We need to show young people how exciting an industry this is, and we need to encourage more women into what has been a traditionally male dominated industry. Thankfully that is changing, but not quickly enough in my view.

I suspect that, in the main, people have a very one-dimensional view of the motor industry, largely based on their own experiences with a mechanic or perhaps a salesperson. But there is such depth and breadth of opportunity, particularly with the growth of the EV market, that being part of the motoring industry is a very attractive proposition for any young person looking for an interesting, exciting and rewarding career.

As an industry, and with support from our representative bodies together with second and third level educators, we need to attract a new kind of workforce, because the future of our industry is in technology. We need to appeal to young people that are highly computer literate, interested in cutting-edge technology and who understand programming.   Being tech savvy no longer means having to work for a US tech giant. I would encourage any young person with an interest in innovation and technology to take a look at the opportunities our industry has to offer, particularly as EVs become the dominant force.

What are your industry predictions for the next 12 months?

We are starting to see a new pattern of growth and, despite the challenges of COVID-19, a proliferation of electric vans on the road – a trend that will be sustained far beyond the next 12 months.

At MAXUS, we have seen a recent surge in sales and enquiries for our EV range as the pandemic has put the spotlight back on environmental issues, has forced more companies to start offering delivery services and, with an increase in online shopping, has had courier companies racing to increase the size of their fleets, including their EV fleets.

Attitudes to EVs are evolving and concerns around price are diminishing as the market becomes more aware of total cost of ownership, aided by government subsidies.

Customer mindset is also changing from a point of thinking that EVs are expensive to a position of wondering what the resale value of a new diesel van might be in five years – and that’s certainly a factor that’s driving demand for EVs right now.

Over the next 12-18 months we will see the launch of new EV variants to satisfy market demand and we are well positioned with a number of new products imminent including a MAXUS eDELIVER3 Chassis and eDELIVER9 Chassis Cab.

Such will be the demand in the coming months that some manufacturers are going to have to race just to keep up. There are plenty of electric van launches, but not every OEM has the stock to fulfil the big orders when they land and this is an issue that has to be addressed if they want to stay in the game.

OEMS are investing billions in researching and delivering new models and governments are helping to push forward the greener motoring agenda. All of this accelerated activity means that it is only a matter of time before electric vans outnumber traditional powertrains on the road and MAXUS is ready to deliver.

 What is the strangest or most challenging job you have done?

My current one! During the last recession and before we were involved with LDV and MAXUS, The Harris Group was one of the leading distributors of vehicles to the construction industry.  When construction dried up, we physically had to look for new markets for our products and that meant travelling to places we knew little about such as Pakistan and Mozambique where we had to build up a brand new customer base. The challenge seemed insurmountable at the time, but the strategy paid off, which is a testament to the vision and tenacity of the late Pino Harris, founder of The Harris Group.

If you had your time again would you have followed the same career path?

That is a categorical yes. It is one of the most fast-paced and dynamic industries in the world and despite the advances in technology, it’s a very people-focused business, which I really enjoy.

If you had been reincarnated, who or what do you think you were in a past life?

I’m more concerned about who or what I will be in my next life!

If you could invite four people to a dinner party – living or dead – who would they be – and why?

I’m not even sure I’d bother with dinner, but it would be intriguing to invite Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Winston Churchill (to put manners on proceedings) and just sit back and watch.

What are your passions outside the workplace?

I love meeting friends, which I find is a great way to unwind as is watching horse racing on TV. Home DIY is a bit of a passion of mine and I also enjoy gardening and recently developed my first vegetable patch. When I get the opportunity, I love to travel and my ambition is to drive from China to Dublin, a journey of some 5,000 miles in one of our new MAXUS products. Watch this space.

If they made a film about your life who would play you?

The formidable Orson Welles: during the last lockdown I grew a beard and was told by more than one person that there was a look of Orson Welles about me.

Describe yourself in five words?

Kind, fair, stubborn, ambitious and loyal.


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