When Challenger Bus & Coach evolved from a long-time operator based in Far North Queensland to become an Australian bus and coach brand, it had a unique perspective of the industry.
Its background running a fleet of school buses and private charter coach tours meant it had insights into what day-to-day operators wanted out of vehicle brands. When Challenger, led by founder Greg Sloan, made the jump to building its own line of buses and coaches, the brand used this experience to consider niche additions that would make life easier for operators.
A key component of this centred around spare parts.
“With Greg at the helm with his lifelong experience in buses, Challenger has been built on the knowledge that parts are always going to be required by operators,” Challenger Victorian sales manager Dan Campbell told ABC.
“It’s one of the key pillars of our brand that we focus on alongside selling our bus and coach models.
“We know there’s nothing worse for operators than having a bus off the road and being unable to get parts. We want to have parts well priced and in stock across Australia, ready for quick distribution when needed.”
This led to Challenger immediately establishing framework for its parts side of the business. While it started by focusing on spare parts that evolving Challenger vehicles require, it has also resulted in Challenger sourcing and stocking a variety of parts for numerous brands.
“The premise of our parts side of the business is that we keep in stock and supply an array of spare parts that support our own buses as well as a selection of main parts for other buses sold in Australia,” Campbell says.
“Our experience helped us determine that sometimes buses can be kept off-road for months at a time if they require a non-regular spare part from a particular brand.
“There can be many different brands that make up a bus, so we decided to ensure we could sell all types of parts to operators to keep vehicles on the road for longer.”
This is where Sloan’s knowledge and standing in the industry came to the fore. Through his connections, Challenger has been able to establish a network that can source spare parts of many brands quickly and at a good rate. Challenger passes this onto customers, acting as a local connection for operators needing help with spare parts.
Campbell says Challenger customers are finding value in being able to talk to an Australian company to source international bus and coach parts. As inquiries and demand have grown, Challenger has sought to keep all Challenger parts in stock in Australia while also sourcing high volume, popular parts for other brands.
“This allows us to keep in stock both small and large quantities of many parts at a good price,” Campbell says.
“We also have the ability to source other parts at a good price too, so operators are able to speak to us and then we can help them in trying to find the parts that they need around the world.”
While Challenger did lay the groundwork for a spare parts focus when transitioning from operator to manufacturer, it took until the COVID-19 pandemic for the brand to completely solidify its parts presence.
Just under three years ago, Challenger launched Australasian Bus & Coach Parts, a separate branch of the Challenger brand that encapsulates its parts ethos by focusing on service, breakdown and maintenance parts for all bus brands. Through this, Challenger has been able to facilitate more conversations with operators to learn about their frustrations when it comes to accessing parts.
Through this, Challenger’s ability to source a wide range of parts came, with Campbell saying Australasian Bus & Coach Parts is now building.
“That side of the brand is continuing to slowly develop over the past three years,” Campbell says.
“It’s been a difficult journey with freight and supply chain issues, but we’re now starting to build up our stock levels and we’re not far off being able to present more to the market in the form of bulk buy specials and deals on certain parts such as filters and belts.”
When the parts side was formally launched, Challenger put Queensland sales manager Mark Collins in charge of looking after it. Since his arrival, Challenger has launched a parts request area on its website to receive inquiries, while Collins has been able to complete plenty of quoting and ordering for parts needs.
“I’m usually the first contact for parts queries and I’ve been able to speak to customers directly to make parts easier and less confusing,” Collins told ABC.
“These queries range from massive orders to some niche smaller requests, from newer models to really old buses.
“We’ve worked really hard on the parts side and we now have lots of parts coming from overseas, including some Cummins gear and a range of running gear.”
Collins says Challenger, alongside Australasian Bus & Coach Parts, has emphasised quality when it comes to ordering parts for Australian customers. This includes using national networks with the likes of Cummins, ZF and Allison when it comes to running gear, while its service item system means filters, belts, wheel bearings and brake linings can all be heavily discounted from retail prices.
Collins says establishing networks with these quality manufacturers means Challenger can source parts globally that are usually more difficult to reach.
Yet in a local sense, Challenger has incorporated this parts emphasis into its bus delivery process. Whether it be an old bus or a sparkling new Challenger coach, the brand has learnt from its history when it comes to prioritising operators with a buffet of quality spare parts.
“When we deliver buses, we also deliver key parts on consignment to the customer, including a set of windscreens, to ensure there’s no downtime for these new vehicles,” Campbell says.
“We are consistently increasing our stock level of parts throughout our bases in Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
“If we can maintain a healthy stock of parts for all buses, then it’ll enable us to get parts to operators when required and treat our customers well.”