Denso Australia’s bus focus

Denso Automotive Systems Australia is stepping into 2017 with a renewed focus on bus air-conditioning units that are specifically designed for local bus and coach applications.

Denso Australia’s bus focus
Denso Australia senior manager of sales Ross Webster is positive about the future for air-conditioning suppliers that are committed to the Australian market.

Denso Australia’s current plant in Croydon manufactures car air-conditioning units for all the local car manufacturers, all of which will cease Australian operations by the end of next year. In addition, its process also covers the imported product that Denso supplies into the aftermarket. These products are supported by technical and sales backup via the sales and service departments.

While the closure of the local car plants will have a significant impact on Denso’s operations at its Croydon facilities, this has given Denso the incentive to refocus on these imported products such as bus air-conditioning.

Denso Australia senior manager of sales Ross Webster says the organisation remains committed to the Australian bus and coach market.

"While our production lines for car air-conditioning units will cease operation in September next year, we will continue to import and sell bus air-conditioners for new buses and service the product that is already in operation on existing buses," he says.

While most buses have a minimum service life in excess of 20 years, Webster says it is important that the operators are still able to access parts and backup service to ensure the bus is well maintained and using genuine parts for the life of the bus.

If anything, the shift away from local manufacturing of car air-conditioning units will encourage Denso to focus even more strongly on the local bus and coach market, and the automotive parts aftermarket, in general.

"We are heavily involved in manufacturing, importing and selling a multitude of products in the automotive industry, and bus air-conditioning is one of them," Webster says. "We’re looking at bringing in some new products at the moment for the bus and coach market.

"Currently we have only one type of unit available suitable for large bus operations, however the intention is to introduce a few new products in the coming months to enable us to capture some of the market segment where we currently do not have a product available."

The main large unit Denso uses for buses at the moment is suitable for an average large bus or coach.

"That can come with either a standard or an unloading compressor, so that you get some fuel savings there."


New units on the way

In terms of new products, the organisation is about to release a small- and medium-sized air-conditioning pod.

"These are still in testing at the moment, but should be available by the end of this year," Webster says. "The medium pod will be ideal for a typical midi-bus with 25 to 30 seats."

"We also have a small pod that will be suitable for prison transport vans and the like."

Operators that chose Denso also have the option of going for a unit that has an unloaded compressor which helps reduce operating costs over time.

"You can obtain an 8 to 10 per cent improved fuel economy with our unloaded compressor units, and while you do pay a little more for this option initially, the payback is well worth the fuel savings in the long term," Webster explains.

The organisation has already had a number of its smaller air-conditioning units installed into prison vans in New South Wales (NSW) through one of its service dealers.

Webster says that there is increasing demand for air-conditioning units for small- and medium-size buses in Australia. On the other side of the scale, with the increased demand for the introduction of double-decker buses among major metropolitan routes by operators, it is necessary to cover all these segments with the appropriate product.

"We are working very closely with Volgren, and there are a few Volgren double-decker buses operating in Australia that have our units on them already.

"These were supplied via our Singapore office. So we are looking very closely at that and whether we can supply more of those locally."


International connections

Being a global company, Denso has operations in most countries where buses are being manufactured.

"Should the Australian market go down the track of the car industry with imported buses only, then we will be in a good position to supply and support those buses – both where they are manufactured, and where they are delivered to here in Australia," Webster says.

"If the regulators do end up letting buses in excess of 2.55m-wide into Australia from Europe, then we will be in a very strong position to support them. While the local body builders are doing well with the opportunities they’ve got, I think it’s inevitable that more buses will start coming in from Europe as well as Asia."

Denso also understands the need to remain competitive in terms of cost of service, parts and labour.

"Basically, apart from your initial outlay, the bus operators are concerned with the whole-of-life running costs," Webster says. "So if you can provide good fuel consumption figures and be competitive in regard to the cost of parts and service, that’s the direction where we are trying to head.

"A lot of operators are now doing their own in-house servicing. So it’s up to us, through our technical services department, to provide training to their internal staff at the operators’ level."

The technical service team of four at Denso spends a lot of time providing back-up support, training Denso’s service dealers, or directly teaching bus operator workshop staff to service and maintain its air-conditioning units.

"Bus air-conditioning sales is only responsible for a small portion of our annual revenue in Australia, but with the closing of the on-site manufacture of car air-conditioning units, we will lose a high percentage of our total revenue," Webster says.

"But we don’t want to lose momentum on the bus side of the business, which is part of the reason why we are increasing our product range. So the focus of the business is now going to be much more on other products, including air-conditioning units for bus, rather than it being a secondary product.

"We have a very strong research and development team here in Melbourne, and this change in the business should give us an opportunity to focus on products that are designed specifically to cater to the bus and coach market."


Building networks

Webster says it’s vital to have the right staff in place that are knowledgeable and willing to work with operators to ensure their individual needs and wants are met.

"So every time a bus is built, you need to identify what parts are needed for the correct installation, what’s the correct compressor drive setup, and so on. Therefore, your sales person needs to have a very good understanding of air-conditioning units for buses, and has to know what is required and to identify what is needed on a case-by-case basis."

The operators are often the final decision-makers on which air-conditioning units they want in their buses, not the manufacturers – so Webster sees it vital to maintain excellent relationships with existing operators and to establish new relationships with potential customers.

The key deciding factor for the operator, according to Webster, is keeping running costs low, being reliable, and providing excellent after-sales service.

"Our units are designed to keep the running costs of the buses [fuel costs] as low as possible, and the same goes for the cost of servicing them," Webster says.

Denso Australia has the full support of its parent company in Japan and, with the new products coming through and proven products that have been on the market for years, it is confident of becoming a strong player in the bus air-conditioning market in Australia.

You can also follow our updates by liking us on Facebook