EXCLUSIVE: Custom's Christmas cracker

As the bus delivery line dips, there could be one bus body builder looking at some Christmas cheer

EXCLUSIVE: Custom's Christmas cracker
<b><font color=red> EXCLUSIVE:</b></font> Custom’s Christmas cracker

By David Goeldner | November 9, 2011

There was a Christmas rush of bus deliveries at this time last year, with suppliers pulling out all stops to get vehicles into depots before December 31.

Everyone was busy at the end of 2010, and there was seasonal cheer all round, but 12 months later the Christmas cracker looks like being a fizzer, with deliveries diving back to the same level that started this 2011-12 financial year.

Just 93 deliveries for October, down by 20 units on the previous month, sees a trend line tracking downwards when in most years it would be going the other way.

Exactly a third of these 93 were placed by Volvo direct into government-owned fleets, reflecting the importance to the bus industry of public procurement of transport services.

That’s potentially one important reason why Scania, for example, has worked so hard to get their vehicles back into government service, picking up healthy contracts with Action in Canberra, and STA in Sydney – although yet to be reflected in bus delivery data as assembly booths start to fill up.

Coming for the ride with Scania, and about to back up from a modestly successful October is body builder Custom (nee Custom Coaches).

Custom delivered 25 units for October, just three less than Volgren, and there is promise of more to come, vindicating Sydney HQ’s relatively recent multi-million dollar investment used for plant upgrades and laser cutting technology.

It appears that as Volgren’s immediate future looks clouded with the impending sale of Grenda Corporation, Custom could be primed to take the mantle as Australia’s leading body builder by volume, and by this time next year, the industry will know how this shakes out.

Custom have not placed all of their eggs in one basket either, casting the net wide to pick up deliveries for October with Hino, Iveco, MAN, Volvo, and – as mentioned – Scania.

Custom CEO Mark Burgess appeared cautiously optimistic during the recent BIC conference in Fiji, saying that it was primarily state governments that paid the way for local bus manufacturing.

He told BIC delegates that stability of demand is a key functionality of each individual supplier, but in saying that, it doesn’t mean manufacturers – such as Custom – should hold on to the past.

"We are in a significantly changing technical arena and our investment in R and D over the last few years is the highest it’s ever been by a significant quantum," Burgess says.

He says the need to continue to invest in technology will be paramount for a successful future.

"It won’t be about what we did in the past, it will be about doing things differently into the future and that’s going take some significant investment," Burgess says.

"But that lends back to having a relatively stable base as a manufacturer, which is a key issue for us – maintaining a level of stability so we can invest in the technologies we need to build a better future for everybody."

So while the box of bonbons might be left in the cupboard at many bus distribution outlets this Christmas, at least Custom might crack out the crackers, and raise a few half full glasses to what may lie ahead.

Exclusive bus delivery data for October 2011 is available here.

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