Challenger has had to go through its fair share of adversity since embarking on a colossal roll of the dice to build a manufacturing brand from the ground up.
After deciding to switch from an operator to a bus and coach manufacturer, Challenger’s mission has been to build a vehicle the way a bus should be, making vehicles that are durable in Australian conditions and made for the customer.
In recent years Challenger has emerged as an exciting new brand option for the Australian bus and coach market that focuses on building buses and coaches filled with the highest quality components.
In July, Challenger’s evolution reached a new level when it delivered a wave of new buses to repeat customer in the Victorian town of Castlemaine.
“The business is growing and we’re now up to 43 vehicles sold and stocked ready for sale,” Challenger Bus & Coach executive director and founder Greg Sloan told ABC.
“The customers who have bought Challenger vehicles so far are now becoming repeat customers and people are starting to take notice of us.
“We’ve been around long enough now for the industry to see what we’re about with our attention to quality finish and using great materials on our buses.”
Castlemaine Bus Lines, part of the wider Whitmore Group, was the home of Challenger’s latest two deliveries. Challenger made the one-and-a-half hour journey up from Spotswood, just outside of Melbourne’s CBD, to Castlemaine to hand over two new V12 vehicles that will be used for V/Line work between Maryborough and Castlemaine.
As part of the V/Line contract, Castlemaine Bus Lines ordered two Challenger coaches that came with 48 seats and are equipped with a toilet and wheelchair lift.
Whitmore Group director Jamie Whitmore says the closure of Mercedes-Benz buses being produced in Australia led to the group taking a new direction when it came to ordering new vehicles for Castlemaine.
“Following the Mercedes-Benz news, one of our drivers asked us to try another Challenger vehicle after we ordered our first one around five years ago,” Whitmore told ABC.
“That first vehicle has been a very good product and has done around 170,000 kms to date without any hiccups.
“Some people are always going to be hesitant with a new brand, but we’ve found these vehicles to be nothing but magic so far.”
The two newly delivered V12s will complete roughly nine trips per day, meaning the kilometres will quickly be clocked up. If the third and fourth Challenger buses to land at Castlemaine follow their two predecessors in terms of performance, Whitmore says he’ll be satisfied.
A new feature of these latest coaches is the wheelchair lift attached to fulfil requirements for the V/Line contract. Whitmore admits he was initially sceptical about adding one on, but the initial viewing and testing of the wheelchair lift proved that the model “was a ripper”.
“The wheelchair lift is simple to use and has no complications,” he says. “It seems to be a lot quicker in lifting and lowering than other models we’ve previously tried.”
The two new Challenger models for the Whitmore Group continue Whitmore’s recent history with the brand, which started when he was lucky enough to drive the very first Challenger vehicle to come to Australia.
After testing that first bus, Whitmore remembers sitting down with Sloan to write out the picky little tweaks that had to be made from a driver’s perspective.
“Now the next edition of this model is out and everything on that list has been done for us,” he says. “Challenger is always looking to improve itself and as a customer I enjoy that a lot.”
Another key part of the brand that satisfies Whitmore is Challenger’s personal aftersales care for existing customers. If Whitmore has ever had an issue or needed a spare part, he says Challenger Victorian sales manager Dan Campbell has jumped in the car on the same day and brought the part to the depot within three hours.
Alongside the quality of the vehicles, Whitmore says this extra effort makes Challenger a standout in the bus and coach market.
“I love how the Challenger team have helped us at times without any hesitation or problems,” Whitmore says.
“We’ve also had great feedback from our drivers and mechanics. The mechanics love working on these vehicles because everything is laid out logically in the engine bay and drivers love driving the universal vehicle.”
The two new V12s will join an existing V10 bus currently doing school runs and a V12 that mostly does rail replacement for Castlemaine Bus Lines.
Dan Campbell says the Whitmore Group was one of Challenger’s first customers, with other repeat customers also popping up in Perth and more prospective clients presenting opportunities in Queensland and Victoria.
“It’s a great sign for the quality of the product that all of our vehicles are thriving after four to five years out on the road,” Campbell told ABC.
“As a relatively young business, it’s hard for us to prove our longevity, but to come here and see a vehicle that’s been on the road for five years and has done nearly 200,000kms while performing like it’s brand new is a great testament to the quality of the product.
“We aim to build vehicles that will last more than 20 years while needing limited maintenance and giving operators a great return on their investment. So far, that is proving to be true.”
Following these latest deliveries, Challenger will also soon be supplying a 57-seat, 12m school bus to Castlemaine to complete the latest string of orders.
Challenger will then hit the road to complete more deliveries in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne, with a new smaller bus model and an electric model also on the horizon for the growing brand.
Alongside a new website at www.challengerbusandcoach.com.au, the vehicle brand is already making a name for itself. Campbell says there’s more on the way from Challenger in the coming months.
“We have two new models on the way that we hope will be market leaders in a smaller seven to eight-metre bus, built with up to 28 seats, and a new electric bus that will be a low-floor city route bus,” he says.
“We’ve grown exponentially in the past 12 months. We like to under promise and over deliver, so we’d say ‘expect the electric bus to be out in the next six to 12 months’.”
Since founding the company, it’s been a wild ride for Sloan. The Challenger executive director and founder admits becoming a vehicle company is something he never thought he’d do, but now he’s proud of how the brand has grown.
With more deliveries on the way and existing customers loving the Challenger product, there’s only more pride to come for the growing local company.
“All new buses look good, but our focus has been on what our vehicles have looked like five years in,” Sloan says. “Jamie Whitmore was one of the first people to support us and they’ve been fantastic.
“Having repeat customers is amazing, as it gives us longevity as a business. We’re now focused on what should be an exciting year for Challenger Bus & Coach.”