Denise Harris speaks to the Public Sector Magazine about how Harris Group are embracing EVs.
Harris Group has been leading the market in the distribution of commercial vehicles for over 50 years. As CEO of Harris Group, what do you put this success down to?
I believe our continued success is down to our belief as a company in our core values; passion, integrity, new thinking and openness. I would hope that within our business every member of the team feels their contribution is valuable. This fosters a culture of innovation, collaboration and creates a sense of energy about all aspects of our business. We are very fortunate to have a team that are truly loyal and have a passion for their role, no matter what their position within the company.
As CEO, my role is to encourage those around me in the business to achieve their maximum potential and that is all that I expect. This filters through to how we treat our customers, suppliers and partners. We have shared successes and this only happens when there is a solid and honest relationship. It may seem a little “old school”, but good business is about personal relationships. I believe that we all work together for the good of the Group and not as individuals achieving status for themselves.
What are the main challenges facing the electric commercial vehicle market over the coming years?
The biggest challenge was a reluctance towards EV commercial vehicles but this is slowly disappearing as we continue to develop our offering. We’ve seen huge advancements in commercial electric vehicles, which is our main market. We embrace challenges because without them, we would not be continuously innovating and developing vehicles to meet our customers’ demands. Challenges are opportunities and ensure that our business remains relevant and that we are always ‘forward thinking’ regarding the future needs of commercial and public transport.
In terms of meeting some of the challenges around EV, we now have a range of Light Commercial Vehicles led by the Maxus e Deliver 3, a small van with a range of 240km, and the `Maxus e Deliver 9’, a large 3.5 tonne van with a range of almost 300km. We have also recently extended our electric bus range with the launch of the new Higer AZURE, a fully electric city bus that seats 41 people comfortably and has a range of 450kms. This compliments the 8m Higer STEED which we launched last year and has a range of 300km.
What does Harris Group specialise in? And how important is R&D in this area?
As the pre-eminent distributor of commercial vehicles in Ireland and the UK, Harris Group has set itself apart from the competition for the last 60 years through a spirit of innovation and a commitment to excellence in customer service. At the end of the day, we specialise in supporting our customers. We work very closely with our partners in China, who are so far ahead in EV technology. We are even exploring alternative fuels such as hydrogen and are looking at new opportunities. We believe it is the way forward.
At Harris Group, we are proud of the part we’re playing in leading the move towards more sustainable transport.
What are the challenges for commercial vehicle users to move away from diesel and petrol?
There is still an issue around range anxiety, battery efficiencies & charging stations, which are a real barrier for some people to move away from diesel and petrol. We are making every effort with our customers to convince them to invest in commercial electric vehicles. It requires new thinking and while that new way of thinking is part of our core values and methodology, it is a challenge to convince some customers to make the change. But we like a challenge!
We have invested in research and development, together with key partners, in order to build new vehicles that offer zero-emissions technology, lower running costs and reduced environmental impact. This has resulted in Harris Group having an ever-expanding range of electric vehicles from Light Commercial Vehicles to buses. In fact, our growing range of electric vehicles rivals diesel in terms of power and mileage. But as I’ve previously said, improvements in the capability of the vehicles and the availability in charging points are helping to shift the perception of electric versus fossil fuels.
What investment does The Harris Group offer its employees as in personal development and promotion, is there any recognised qualification or skills that can be transferred?
Our business is all about people and I’ve always recognised the importance of investing in our people. We refer to our extended team as the ‘Harris Family’. We actively promote within the company in recognition of the commitment of individuals. We encourage people from a professional and personal development point of view. In addition to our investment in our in-house training technology, and of course our new HARRIS Training Academy at our HQ in Dublin, we also engage with specialist external training and development resources.
The company is a family business. What legacy would you like to leave behind for the group and what has been the biggest lesson you have learned in business which you can pass on?
The key learning which I would like to pass on is that in order for a business to succeed, its people must feel part of that success and must all be treated with respect. I like to think that I am always open to new ways of thinking, new ideas. Innovation really excites me. I look forward to coming into work everyday and seeing what’s next for our business and how it is growing. Harris Group has never been a business that rests. We understand the need to evolve to meet the changing demands of our customers.
One of the lessons which we have all learned over the past couple of years is to adapt to new ways of working with people. This has encouraged us to embrace new technologies, which have become the new norm. We have modernised and upgraded our IT systems and telecoms, all to keep us more in contact, not less and this has also enabled us to grow our business substantially.