By: Fabian Cotter

BREAKING: MULTIPLE INDUSTRY SOURCES have confirmed that Automotive Holdings Group International’s (AHGI) strategic relationship as official Australian distributor for China’s Higer Bus Company is at an end.

Higer's Australian presence may be at a crossroads. And the clock's ticking.

AHG is the largest automotive retail company in Australia. With an involvement with Higer Bus since 2011 – initially providing floorplan and working capital finance to previous distributor White Motor Corporation, as stated - AHG eventually assumed that role in 2015.

Perhaps further signalling an end to the relationship, AHGI general manager Neil Bamford – who took on the role in 2013 to, "drive the business through its next growth phase", according to the Higer Bus Australia website – recently announced via LinkedIn his role as MD at Adventurer AWD Buses.

Speaking to ABC magazine only 24 hours earlier regarding the current status of the AHGI-Higer Bus relationship – and rumours Higer itself may take over the distribution rights in Australia, he said: "We don't know what it's going to come as, so it may not be as Higer, it may be as someone else; I'm not sure, it's not up to me."

When asked if there was a timeframe for a transition, he added: "No. Sorry, I can't give you any more. And that's not a case of me not being able to tell you, that's there is nothing else [I can tell you] at the moment."

Asked if Higer was still selling, or seeking to sell, buses here, he replied: "We are taking limited orders, really. We are essentially closing AHGI’s side down. So … in a sense we can't wait for Higer. We are still delivering buses, but I wouldn't say we were out there advertising heavily and trying to get all this [business].

"We don't really want to do it on that basis, our product is more ... for existing customers, just to continue it, that's all. Not so much looking for new business. AHG is pulling back from this; they are not looking to increase their exposure."

In terms of future support for product sold, Bamford said: "There's parts, there's technical support, there's warranty all still being supplied [by AHGI] as you would still expect. Everyone is being looked after from an existing customer perspective."

He added, "If you look at AHG as far as [its] other businesses go you can see that it's divested some of its non-core activities, which is [core] car retail. And buses is obviously not in that car-retail space.

"We've got legal obligations for parts, for technical support and warranties, so we will ensure that all of those are being observed … until whatever time someone else comes in and takes [it] over."

Earlier, another closely connected AHGI-Higer industry source, who would later retract their statement, said, "We can't tell exactly when it will complete, but it will complete..." referring to a change in the current AHGI-Higer situation.

Yet perhaps most insightful into how things may pan out is another industry source, whom chose to remain nameless, stating that: "Higer has quit. Higer [here] will formally close [at] the end of this month."

The source added: "AHGI, from what I've heard, will finish and only probably supply the parts for Higer for certain years, as this is a requirement from the government."

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According to Higer Bus Australia’s website: "Higer Bus and Coach is one of the fastest-growing bus manufacturers in the world. It is known for its innovation and dedication to research and development.

"In 1998 Higer was founded in the Jiangsu province, China. Higer is the third-largest bus manufacturer in the world. Higer buses are available in more than 40 countries and the company continues to experience significant annual growth in both market expansion and production capability.

"Higer's manufacturing facility in the Jiangsu Province China has the capacity to produce 35,000 buses per year. The production base for medium, large and city buses covers 800,000sqm (equivalent to 45 Melbourne Cricket Ground fields) and hosts advanced-equipped assembly lines.

"The company now employs more than 6,000 people worldwide.

"Higer exports to more than 100 countries on continents with the some of the most unforgiving terrain in the world including Africa, the Middle East, Commonwealth of Independent States, Southeast Asia, the Americas and Oceania.

"In 2008 the first Higer bus came to Australia as WMC Group became the importer of Higer Bus and Coach. The first model to appear on Australian shores was the versatile H9280 Midi Boss. The equally efficient H12 series Road Bosses and H8200 Ryder arrived shortly after with H7170 Munro, the most recent addition to the Australian market.

"The brand has … have made their way into iconic Australian fleets such as Murray's and Hopkinsons.

"Higer Bus and Coach has further embedded itself in the Australian bus industry landscape by becoming active members of the key state-based industry bodies; Bus NSW, BIC and the Queensland Bus Industry Council."

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