My motoring inspiration: Edmund King OBE

Edmund King

This mainstay of the automotive industry has made his mark in a huge number of different jobs, from wine taster to AA President

What inspired you to get into the automotive industry?

Years ago, we lived in Cringleford, near Norwich, next-door-but-one to the founder of Lotus Cars, Colin Chapman. Colin flew me to my first grand prix, where I met Graham Hill and Emerson Fittipaldi. Seeing and hearing the road and track cars gave me a great love of cars.

Around the same time, my dad graduated from Ford Zephyrs and Zodiacs to the amazing Citroen DS 21. As a young boy, for your dad to show up in a space-age car with lights that see round corners and a switch to lift the suspension was truly amazing.

Then there was Dustin Hoffman. Well, it was actually The Graduate. When I first saw the movie (too young, I’m sure), I fell in love with the red Alfa Romeo Spider. I didn’t realise it, but it left me with an insatiable craving for open-top sports cars. I’ve had several in my time.

You’ve had a huge range of roles over the years, from running a car rental business to working as a wine taster. Have you been able to carry skills over from previous jobs?

My first job was probably the best job in the world. I went to Burgundy to work in the vineyards and wine cellars. After about a month, I was approached to be a PR officer. I didn’t know what PR was, but I said yes. I then embarked on tasting the same 20 wines at 8am every day for a month, and when I could distinguish between a Bourgogne Aligoté and a Chablis Premier Cru, I was promoted. My job involved picking up customers from Dijon airport in a London black cab, touring the vineyards, taking them for lunch and then a wine tasting. In the winter, I would write articles about wines and pitch them to the Daily Telegraph. I learnt a lot about customer service, writing, PR and indeed cars, because my black cab was always breaking down.

After studying politics at Newcastle University and then taking various civil service jobs, I ended up seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood. I did everything from working for a radio station to starting my own antique jewellery business and running a kind of rent-a-wreck car rental firm. I learnt so much living and working in LA.

How did you get to where you are now as President of the AA?

After four years in California, I returned to the UK to do a proper job. I got into campaigning for the British Road Federation, which got me noticed by the main motoring organisations for my ability to get stories in the papers and influence government policy. Since then, I’ve worked across the industry, from public affairs to research, communications and campaigning.

How are you making sure the AA is ready for the future?

We’ve invested in EV tech to help drivers make the switch. That means supporting charging point operators, providing our patrols with EV training and breakdown equipment, and developing motor insurance that covers batteries and charging cables as standard. Our innovative “freewheeling hub” allows our patrols to tow those EVs that can’t normally be flat-towed.

We’re also refreshing our range of products. Electric, hybrid, petrol and diesel cars can all be found on AA Cars, our used car portal, and more than a third of our network of Smart Care garages can now work on EVs. We’re ready for the future. The irony is that the top three causes of EV breakdowns are the same as for combustion-powered cars: tyres, wheels and 12V batteries!

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in automotive?

Whatever your automotive inspiration, just get out there, knock on doors, and do it. There are so many fulfilling jobs – from mechanical to marketing. Just show your passion and get in at any level.

Edmund King OBE is President of the AA and Visiting Professor of Transport at Newcastle University

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This is an edited extract from IMI's new MotorPro magazine, received free as part of IMI membership. Time to find out more about becoming a member of the most influential community in UK automotive…?