‘Keeping it Clean’ with Mark Dodwell, Director for Future Mobility at Natwest

Part 15 of the ‘Keeping it Clean’ blog series, shining a light on experts making significant impact in the world of sustainability, clean energy and clean technology.

Mark Dodwell is a Director for the Future Mobility Group at NatWest, he’s also a keen cyclist and married father of 3. When he’s not at work or spending time with the family, he plays Touch Rugby, coaches kids rugby, and gets out on his bike as much as he can.

The NatWest’s dedicated Future Mobility Group have been created to support the transition of UK Transport industries and customers to a net carbon zero world. By working across NatWest the Future Mobility Group are developing and delivering solutions with a focus on EV transition, EV charging infrastructure and manufacturing support, both for staff and customers.

Sounds like a great thing to be a part of… let’s find out!

Since we are discussing future mobility, let’s kick things off with what you drive…

I’ve actually just ordered my very first EV, an Audi e-tron! Working in future mobility I’ve seen where the market is heading, and seeing it from the inside removed all of the concerns of range anxiety, how you charge etc. Being submerged in it, I now understand it and if to go EV wasn’t the question, it was just which one!

So why the e-tron?

Mostly logistics! I need a large family car, and in that space the choice is still slightly more restricted than for smaller cars, and the Audi pretty much ticked all the boxes… let’s hope it’s as good as it sounds!

I know you’re also a keen cyclist, is this a new thing?

Actually, I used to run a lot, then I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, which meant I could no longer run, so I took up cycling, and luckily, I loved it. I do it to stay fit and healthy and it has the added bonus that I can pretty much eat whatever I want with the number of miles I do! I’d say I ride about 5000 miles a year, most of the miles in and around Worcestershire, in the Malvern Hills which is a beautiful part of the world, from where you can see right across to the Cotswolds on one side and the Black Mountains in Wales on the other. I also do the odd sportive and charity cycle, and of course cycle to work where possible, which fortunately is a beautiful ride along the River Severn to the office. But my absolute favourite place to cycle is Majorca, and I’m looking forward to going back — fingers crossed it’ll be next year!

Your career has taken an interesting shift, from mobility, to banking, and then mobility in a bank… how did that come about?

I started as an Engineering Apprentice in the Aerospace sector, but very quickly realised that that wasn’t my career path. I went into banking in the late 80s, working for Midland Bank, now HSBC. I did that for 6 years and thought that would be my career but then Ford Motor Company opened an office close to where I lived, and I saw a better career path opening up with Ford than I did in Banking at that time. I spent 15 years working within both personal and dealer finance at Ford, working my way up from Customer Service Handler tackling 200 calls a day to UK Customer Service Manager.

Ford gave me a fantastic opportunity to grow as a person and progress my career, the various roles I worked in shaped who I am today but in 2008, with career opportunities restricted at Ford, I was asked whether I was interested in a role at NatWest Group. After a couple of interviews and some soul searching on whether I should leave Ford I made the leap to join NatWest Group. I’ve now been here for 12 years and I’ve done various roles within the bank. For the last 3.5 years I led the Commercial Banking in Hereford and Worcester and while carrying out that role also acted as lead for the Manufacturing sector across the Midlands Territory, with a key focus on Automotive Manufacturing.

How did this lead to future mobility?

At the end of last year, the bank identified future mobility as an area we should explore, invest, and look at opportunities. One of our priorities was a focus on how we support manufacturers. When I understood the proposition and how future mobility spans across all sectors, it was too good an opportunity not to go for, and it was a great decision.

The bit that I am really excited about is developing the capability to help our manufacturing customer base understand the future mobility market and support the transition of their pivot into the market. Future mobility is a disruptor to a lot of automotive manufacturing businesses, but a needed one! It’s really rewarding to help them think strategically about not just overcoming it but turning it into a competitive advantage.

What’s driving the switch, and what hurdles are getting in the way?

Firstly regulation: when we look at the 2035 deadline to cease the sale of ICE vehicles, which it’s been hinted may even come forward to 2032, it isn’t actually very far away. The planning cycle for OEMs is 42 months, and there’s not that many lots of 42 months between now and 2032!

Some people are saying Covid will slow the sale of EVs, but with the pollution levels dropping in urban areas, hopefully people will see the benefits and think EV when it comes to their next vehicle. Also, costs will come down, and the OEMs could, and hopefully will, drive that vehicle choice further. In the manufacturing space, Covid has led to the re-evaluation of supply chains, and in turn an analysis of entire businesses and the transition which they will need to go through. This is where we can support them and accelerate the electrification.

I imagine you get a fairly holistic view of future mobility through your work, where do you think we are headed?

I think we will start to see government policy drive behavioural change. Although Covid has postponed several clean air zones launches, I’m sure it won’t be for too much longer, and other cities will see the benefits and follow suit. Covid has led to huge amounts of walking and cycling, which will have an impact on MaaS (Mobility-as-a-service) such as bike, e-bike and e-scooter sharing schemes. It would be great to see park and ride bike schemes, hopefully it won’t be too far away!

As mentioned before, the OEMs will start to drive more and more EV choice, whilst government incentives to switch to an EV, such as grants for home charging and benefit in kind for company car schemes, are very attractive. I don’t think enough people understand these schemes, and in order to change this, education is key. At NatWest, we are trying to educate our customer base on the benefits available when you transition to EV, to help them seize these opportunities. As much as these incentives are available now, as we get mass adoption, they will certainly reduce or even disappear at some stage. This together with the OEMs launching a wide range of vehicles, the improvement in charging infrastructure and the ever-increasing distance range (the latest Tesla can now do a staggering 370 miles!), will hopefully see EV adoption drastically improve.

What about cost?

Total cost of ownership also plays a big part with EVs at the moment. There is no getting away from the fact that they are more expensive to buy, however, day to day running costs are so much less. The number of moving parts is vastly reduced, so less servicing required, and the obvious, lower fuelling costs all lead to a reduced ‘total cost of ownership’. Actually I think people will start to think of total cost of mobility in a wider sense; the cost of bike sharing schemes, jumping in an Uber, going on the underground, renting a ZipCar, buying an EV etc. all as one thing.

What other exciting changes do you see ahead?

There are a lot of brilliant start-up businesses in the MaaS space, and we can support these through our Entrepreneur Accelerator programme. It would be great to see them flourish over the coming years. I see big growth for e-bikes, e-scooters, subscription models and car sharing models, but I also think we will see many new and innovative ideas evolve and develop over the next 3 -5 years.

In some ways the limitations of some of these innovations and EV ownership balance each other out. In urban areas, I don’t think car ownership will be a thing for most people in the coming years; they will utilise the new innovations as well as improved public transport networks. As we move away from urban areas, these innovations often aren’t as sustainable, but EV infrastructure will improve in rural areas, so you would hope that a EV adoption will increase, thus continuing to provide a lower emission solution for both.

A recent edition of FleetNews reported that 1/3 of Fleet Managers were not aware of EV BIK changes, how can we go about rectifying this?

The government put it out there, but it really needs the government support organisations, like Local Enterprise Partnerships and Chambers of Commerce to really help businesses grasp it. Lots of SME businesses are so busy running ‘the day job’, that they don’t always have the time and space to define the strategy of where they are going and know what’s out there to help them with it.

Businesses and organisations like banks and professional practices can help their customers understand what support is available to them. They can help educate SMEs on the options, how to implement them and how they can reduce the impact they have on the environment. People like Sara Sloman at Foot Anstey do a huge amount to educate people on what is available and how this can benefit them. Let’s collectively ensure these voices are heard.

What careers do you see arising in this space for the next generation?

The area I’m focused on in manufacturing and battery technology is huge. Gigafactories will bring a whole new technology which will drive a raft of new skilled jobs that don’t exist today. We are already seeing customers with a focus on battery technology entering the transport sector, supplying battery technology to EVs when they have no place in the manufacture of ICE vehicles.

The electric revolution is going to generate regional centres of excellence that will support battery development and battery technology. Kids coming out of school could be working in future mobility roles that just don’t exist right now. My 2nd daughter is 17, and my son 14 and I’m sure they will have the option to work in jobs that we can’t comprehend right now.

On the topic of the next generation, when you look at your children’s future, what would you love to see change in the world they grow up in?

More people are commuting by bike and e-bike. I don’t think many people consider this, but people don’t often buy e-bikes to replace a bicycle, they buy them to replace short car journeys. In the UK 20% of journeys are under a mile, 38% journeys under 2 miles and 66% under 5 miles. For the majority of people, those journeys just shouldn’t be done using cars.

Also, I think the next generation have a greater consideration for their social and environmental impact. My kids are both very aware from an environmental and sustainability perspective. They have access to more information, a greater exposure, and also the ‘Greta Thunberg effect’ has definitely impacted my kids. They have an understanding which is far greater than I had when I was their age, and this really must continue.

How can we collectively drive the sustainability agenda?

There are just so many facets to driving sustainability, so many things that need to happen. What’s key is that they all work in parallel to have the impact that is needed to slow down and ultimately stop the damage we are doing to the planet.

Connect with us to keep the clean discussion going! 🌏

Avid Traveller. Sustainability Advocate. London based Recruiter. Sustainability and Cleantech Writer. Cyclist. Muay Thai Enthusiast.