AIR-CON: New strategies

By: Amie Hickland

Ssuppliers are looking for new strategies to ensure their product bests the rest

AIR-CON: New strategies
Anthony O’Donnell of Spheros

As the air-conditioning market cools off, suppliers are looking for new ways to ensure they can stay competitive in an ever-crowded marketplace.

Many leading suppliers are ensuring they follow through with the support of products they sell, which one supplier says is a now a major factor in operators making decisions about which air-conditioning units to buy.

ABC spoke to suppliers and manufacturers at the Australian Bus + Coach Show 2013 in Sydney recently to find out what changes — if any — companies are making to stay competitive in the niche bus air-conditioning market.


One air-conditioning supplier is questioning whether the increasingly crowded market place is a sustainable environment for new competition.

Denso National Product Manager Troy Wells, says the current climate is an "interesting market".

"It’s a lot more competitive, with the fact that when we started in the industry in 2007 there were only four suppliers," he explains. Adding, this number is now up to 16 or 17.

"There are obviously more suppliers on the market now which certainly makes it more competitive."

Wells questions whether some of the smaller players will be able to sustain their market share in future and continue to care for customers.

"Will they still have the support five, 10 years down the track when they really need it?" he asks.

Despite this, he says there will always be some sort of market in the country for air-conditioning suppliers.

"We’ve supplied air-conditioning in Australia for the longest part of time and we certainly intend to be here for a lot longer," he says.

"As long as buses are being built in Australia there’s a market for air-conditioning suppliers."

Despite an uncertain future for most, Wells says Denso has some exciting plans in the next 18 months.

"We’re trying to release a competitively priced product that will improve the fuel efficiency for the vehicles," he says.

Lewis Arakelian, of Lou-Air Australia, says the market is "very slow" as the bigger players take all the work.

"A lot of buses are coming in from China with air-conditioners already."

He says Lou-Air Australia will continue working on service and repairs to sustain the business.


Spheros is one of the newer air-conditioning suppliers to Australia but they are working to ensure they make their mark on the industry.

National Sales Manager Anthony O’Donnell, formerly of Thermo King, says they are working hard to ensure they can continue to support their products after they’ve been installed.

"We have a full range for medium to large businesses," he says.

The units are engineered and designed in Germany and O’Donnell says Spheros is a world leader in air-conditioning.

O’Donnell says "if they can get it fixed and where they can get it fixed" are now major contributors to decisions of whether or not to go ahead with a specific air-conditioning product as well as cost.

"They’re the major contributing factors," he says.

As a result, Spheros has also reinforced the aftercare of their products.

"Now when we’re in the marketplace to sell, we can offer back-up service anywhere in Australia."


SUBHEAD: Flaunting flagship

Thermo King says it works hard to continue to be a leader in the industry.

National Sales Manager Transit Jamie Dunlop says it’s a "tough" and "very competitive" market at present.

"We’re the market leader at the moment and we have been for a couple of years.

"We offer a good range of service and support," he explains.

"I think that does keep us competitive in the market."

Dunlop says the industry is fast expanding although it is still "tight knit".

"Over the three to four years there’s been a lot of product coming into the country," he says.

"We are always seeing new technology and new models.

The company had its KRS unit on display at the show, which he describes as its "flagship".

"Competition is always healthy," says Dunlop.


Webasto may be one of the newer players to the bus air-conditioning market, but they are convinced the quality of manufacturing in their range of products is their point of difference in the Australian market.

Sales and Service Director David Byrne, says the difference between their products and other companies is they are still made in Europe.

He says the testing is also done in parts of Europe which have a similar climate to Australia which makes them perfect for bus operators throughout the country.

"We also use high quality components," he says.

The $2.5 billion company supplies to 52 countries and employs about 10,500 people around the world.

On display at the Australian Bus + Coach Show in Sydney was the company’s Diavia rooftop air-conditioning system.

Byrne says the Sydney show was an important opportunity to demonstrate to industry what the company has to offer.

"For us, it’s an opportunity to show the breadth of our heating and cooling products."

He says Webasto probably has the widest range of products from any other company in the country.

"There’s certainly competition across each of the products but we’re hoping that our breadth of product and high quality will provide a viable alternative to the existing market," Byrne says.

Webasto‘s Managing Director Christian Mahr says the design, manufacture and distribution of the products are all done within the company.

"It’s quite unique from that perspective," Mahr says.

"We supply and support it — it’s all within Webasto," Byrne adds. "We’re able to supply a complete solution."

The company has been in existence since 1901 but has only recently branched out to Australia.

"All these products are widely supported in Europe but here in Australia we’re just starting to launch it," Mahr says.

"We’re developing and improving it."

Webasto currently has a base in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, says Mahr.

"We absolutely want to further expand our network," he says.


Cooltek Asia Pacific launched a new product at the show in hope of attracting some new business.

The CA528 air-conditioning unit has attracted some new interest for the business.

"It’s lighter than we’ve had in the past," National Marketing and Sales Manager Don Imrie explains.

"There have certainly been a lot of people interested because it’s a new product."

Imrie says the company has also started working with Australian bus builder Bustech to expand its horizons.

"It’s a new and exciting project for us," he says.


Coachair is pushing its aftermarket care to stay competitive in the market.

CEO Dieter Mosmann says they’re "not just selling the equipment, but the whole life of the air-conditioner."

"We’re trying to push our aftermarket service," he explains.

One of the first suppliers in the country, Mosmann says Coachair’s "robust" air-conditioners are designed in Australia, for Australia.

"We’ve improved them over the years," he says.

"If someone needs spare parts, we strive to deliver them that day or in the next 48 hours," he says.

"The most important thing to us is to get the service element right."

Coachair is also developing a low cost model "but that will only ever be a niche air-conditioner."


SUBHEAD: Reactive marketing

Another air-conditioning supplier is waiting to see how the market moves before making any big decisions in the future.

Tracs Bus & Coach Air Conditioning is the main supplier of Eberspacher Sutrak products to the market.

National Business Manager Gavin Blight says Tracs main business is supplying air-conditioning units but it also places emphasis on continuing care for its customers.

"We’re just seeing what the market is doing and trying to follow it," he explains.

"We also do our own service and spare parts for all makes and models … service and spare parts are always going to be there."

The company has workshops in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth although they are yet to expand into Adelaide as the market is not yet big enough.

Blight says Tracs hasn’t launched new products recently, although the 2013 Australian Bus + Coach show was the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the market.

"I believe that this type of show has the potential to bring more people to it and gives us more opportunity to talk to more people.

"It’s a stage where everybody’s waiting to see what’s happening."


TRS Transit’s alternative control system is still a favourite among bus operators who need to fix the air-conditioning systems on buses, which can be up to 25 years old.

The company provides support for air-conditioners — particularly Thermo King products — and mainly in New South Wales.

TRS Transit Bus Account Executive John Lock, says the alternative control system, which was developed about four years ago, is ideal for older buses where parts are no longer available.

"Some of those buses are 25 years old now and some of the replacement parts are no longer available," he says.

"So we can keep those vehicles going for another 25 years."

The system costs just under $1,000 which includes installation.

"This is a great alternative to keeping his current buses air-conditioned at a very inexpensive price."

Lock says they also service, repair and assist in breakdowns of buses as well as selling product to the industry.

"We also support more than just the Thermo King product. We will support anyone’s air-conditioning on anyone’s bus."

TRS Transit services about 2,000 buses a year and specialise in "preventative maintenance".

"We’re pretty busy. It’s consistent all year," Lock says.

"We’ve grown the business from a handful of customers to a substantial market share."

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