EXCLUSIVE: Mini muscle challenges town giant


Getting into the mini-mover market could be the solution to the developing picture of poor bus sales

EXCLUSIVE: Mini muscle challenges town giant
<b><font color=red>EXCLUSIVE:</b></font> Mini muscle challenges town giant

August 10, 2011

The new financial year appears to have started on a level playing field for the major chassis suppliers, albeit from a poor start.

Where Volvo was streaking the field throughout 2010-11, the Swedish giant has been pegged back a notch or two, but still remains in the lead with 18 units delivered in July.

It’s a modest number, even by Volvo’s standards and could be the start of a concerning trend for each ‘big bus’ supplier on the Australian market.

The post-June sales slump wasn’t entirely unexpected even though 90 units appear worryingly low following a buoyant June which saw 210 vehicles delivered.

The trend line had slowly picked up momentum since January, but has now dived to one of the lowest monthly reports on record.

Delivering less than 100 units could be cause for concern, but there is movement in an entirely unexpected direction and one that’s difficult to capture in the ‘big bus’ market.

Chinese importer Higer has indicated sales are moving briskly in the mini-bus market place, selling the 28-seater Munro by the shipload over the past six months.

The Munro is viewed by many as Higer’s answer to the Mitsubushi Rosa and Toyota’s Coaster, and is being snapped up by buyers with no bus industry connection, save for the Mum and Dad school bus operators.

A recent discussion with John Speers of Mitsubishi Fuso, the distributor of the Rosa, raised the matter of how best to reflect this section of the market in the wider bus industry.

While the Rosa, Coaster and Munro occupy some bus space, the feeling from industry stalwarts is that they don’t see these ‘people movers’ as legitimate players in the ‘premier league’ of bus and coach.

Speers disagrees, firmly of the view that the smaller vehicle class is a legitimate bus transport people mover out in the public sphere, and that it should be seen as such.

WMC General Manager Shannon Taylor, a key player in Higer’s fortunes in Australia, holds a similar view.

The fact that these mini-coaches are often seen out there doing the school runs or carrying senior citizens to the local community club and can be found in the garages of all manner of government and corporate entities means this fleet suite can’t be ignored.

And there are new entrants coming along in the smaller class market, such as Golden Dragon, distributed by Heavy Vehicles Australia in Melbourne and the 27-seat Brahman coming via the Gold Coast.

The smaller buses appear to be intersecting from two directions, the first as an adjunct to the large bus business to accommodate demand for a smaller-sized vehicle — such as is Higer’s case — and in the other direction are truck and car dealerships adding Coasters and Rosa’s to the vehicle distribution mix, if they haven’t done so already.

Either way, this part of the market appears to be doing well and, in some respects, also appears to be working in the opposite direction of the ‘big bus’ industry’s desire to build larger, higher and longer buses for mass people movement.

A closer look at July’s bus delivery data sees Higer, Hino and BCI delivering smaller sized ‘big’ buses — the 33 seaters — in increasing numbers.

Sticking with Higer, WMC reported 14 deliveries in its bigger bus range for July, just behind Volvo and Mercedes-Benz.

This figure doesn’t account for the dozens of Munros that Higer has already sold this year to schools, car rental companies and myriad clubs.

If Higer is performing this well from a standing start with its mini-mover ? and Speers is upbeat about the ever-popular Rosa ? the conclusion could be that big may not necessarily be better during the next 12 months, which already paint a depressing picture given the poor start so far to the current fiscal year.

To access July 2011 bus delivery data click here

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