NO COUN­TRY FOR OLD MEN

Volvo Bus has many rea­sons to cel­e­brate in 2018, a year that, in the least, marks its ‘90 Years of In­no­va­tion’. Now, it has an­other: a home­grown Aussie gen­eral man­ager for the Aus­tralasian re­gion – and she has plenty to say about where the Swedish brand i

ABC (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WORDS FABIAN COT­TER PHOTOS THOMAS WIELECKI

VOLVO BUS AUS­TRALIA’s got a new GM and she brings a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence, con­fi­dence and open­ness to the de­mand­ing role for the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. We grabbed a quick chat with her in Syd­ney. Fabian Cot­ter re­ports.

C ONFIDENT foot­steps res­onate crisply upon ap­proach off gleam­ing white floor tiles in the Volvo Bus Aus­tralia of­fice at Chul­lora, Syd­ney. It’s a non­de­script Fri­day af­ter­noon in March, if not for a much-an­tic­i­pated meet­ing with the new GM for Volvo Bus Aus­tralia, Lau­ren Downs.

Kiama, New South Wales, raised since she was five years old, Downs is a suc­cess­ful prod­uct of Volvo’s dis­cern­ing univer­sity schol­ar­ship sys­tem; though, her 10-year path to such a pow­er­ful po­si­tion in the re­gion hasn’t been easy.

A bad thing? Not at all. It’s grafted her into a bat­tle-hard­ened ‘bussie’, ready to steer the brand through the tough Aus­tralasian mar­ket. Or so we would learn as her stac­cato foot­steps grow louder and closer upon ap­proach …

ABC:

Hello, Lau­ren. And con­grat­u­la­tions! So tell us, how does it feel to be the gen­eral man­ager of Volvo Bus Aus­tralia?

LD:

Thank you! It feels fan­tas­tic and I am ex­cited for the jour­ney ahead. I feel like I’ve grown up in the in­dus­try and the mes­sages of sup­port I have re­ceived from within it when I was ap­pointed have been re­ally hum­bling.

As a child or as a univer­sity stu­dent I must con­fess I never thought I would work in buses, but I was warned when I started that once you en­ter the bus in­dus­try – you stay! So maybe they were right [laughs]. And I think it also goes to show Volvo is a fan­tas­tic com­pany to work for; the Volvo prod­ucts, brand and val­ues are things that I be­lieve in, so it’s ideal for me.

ABC:

Can you give us a bit of the back­ground be­hind your ca­reer to date. How did it all get started?

LD:

Very briefly, I grew up in Kiama on the NSW South Coast, but moved to Syd­ney 10 years ago. I stud­ied a Bach­e­lor of Busi­ness/Mar­ket­ing de­gree at Wol­lon­gong Univer­sity and that’s where I ap­plied for the Volvo schol­ar­ship and started my Volvo Bus jour­ney. Af­ter al­most four years with Volvo in Aus­tralia I was then lucky enough to be granted the op­por­tu­nity to move to Swe­den and work at the Volvo Bus head­quar­ters for two years in the global prod­uct man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing de­part­ment. This was an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and gave me a global per­spec­tive of Bus. I was work­ing re­ally closely with [the rest of] Eu­rope dur­ing the time of launch­ing Euro 6, elec­tro­mo­bil­ity and all the things that are now hap­pen­ing here in Aus­tralia. I also worked with Volvo Bus col­leagues in the US, Latin Amer­ica, In­dia and around the world.

Fol­low­ing that I then moved across to Sin­ga­pore to report to David Mead as part of his man­age­ment team for the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion for three years, tak­ing on the role as com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor, which was ev­ery­thing from mar­ket­ing to new mar­ket en­try and prod­uct man­age­ment for the re­gion.

I then re­turned back here a year ago, as it was ob­vi­ously time to move home, where I then took on the role of ma­jor ac­counts man­ager. This was a newly cre­ated role based on our aware­ness of our cus­tomers and the in­dus­try chang­ing – it was fan­tas­tic to get that front­line ex­pe­ri­ence. And then I moved into this GM role, so that’s Volvo Bus in a nut­shell for me.

ABC:

2018, how do you see this first year of your new role? What are your ideas and plans? What do we as an in­dus­try need to do, or where do we need to be?

LD:

The in­dus­try and our cus­tomers are chang­ing and evolv­ing faster than ever be­fore. So whether it is in terms of their man­age­ment styles, or ser­vices and prod­ucts that they are de­liv­er­ing to their com­mu­ni­ties and to their cus­tomers, the changes that are hap­pen­ing are rapid. At Volvo we are re­ally try­ing to work harder than ever to sup­port that.

ABC:

Does New Zealand also fall un­der your re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in the Aus­tralasian re­gion? Are there dif­fer­ent chal­lenges there for the com­pany?

LD:

Yes, New Zealand comes un­der the Aus­tralasian re­gion with Aus­tralia; I’ve ac­tu­ally been re­spon­si­ble for the New Zealand mar­ket for four years al­ready start­ing dur­ing my Sin­ga­pore role, and it will re­main un­der me now.

New Zealand is def­i­nitely a unique mar­ket com­pared to Aus­tralia – it has very dif­fer­ent weight and width reg­u­la­tions, for ex­am­ple, so it is some­times hard for us to meet those reg­u­la­tions with our stan­dard prod­ucts.

ABC:

Any new prod­ucts com­ing out you can tell us about, or even al­lude to – and when?

LD:

We are heav­ily in­vest­ing in elec­tric buses, and are cur­rently work­ing on an elec­tric chas­sis for the Aus­tralian mar­ket. In terms of the tim­ing, we are look­ing at a re­lease in two-to-three years. While this seems some time away, we be­lieve that it is by this time the in­dus­try, leg­is­la­tors, busi­ness mod­els and in­fra­struc­ture will be ready – the bus is ac­tu­ally the last thing re­quired and all the other in­te­gral el­e­ments around the bus need to be set up cor­rectly first for ‘elec­tric’ suc­cess.

ABC:

What are your views on al­ter­na­tive fu­els? We still have diesel buses used in this coun­try; How quickly should op­er­a­tors be adopt­ing Euro 6, or is there still time for them to not?

LD:

Def­i­nitely from Volvo’s per­spec­tive there will be a mix of diesel and elec­tric mov­ing for­ward; we’ll be us­ing diesel for a very long time here in Aus­tralia.

We don’t see that it will sud­denly be­come all ‘elec­tric’ overnight. At Volvo we see the jour­ney to­wards elec­tric as be­ing a stepped ap­proach, start­ing with hy­brid buses while cities plan for their in­fra­struc­ture – and the tricky part is that ev­ery city and route will be dif­fer­ent. A good ex­am­ple of this stepped ap­proach has been in Lon­don. Lon­don started with hy­brids back in 2008 when Volvo launched it and they are only now go­ing into full elec­tric, so it’s ac­tu­ally taken a 10-year span to get to this stage, to get the grid con­nec­tion and the power and all the things that are needed for elec­tric. And even then, they are only se­lect­ing some routes in the city where it makes sense to be com­pletely zero emis­sion.”

ABC:

So with ev­ery­one seem­ingly look­ing to elec­tric buses as the norm in fu­ture, do hy­brid buses have a useby date on them al­ready?

LD:

No, ab­so­lutely not! From two per­spec­tives – the fact they [hy­brids] don’t need any in­fra­struc­ture means they de­liver both trans­port se­cu­rity and flex­i­bil­ity, so the abil­ity to be run in places where there is no ac­cess to the power re­quire­ments for elec­tric. But as I said, if you start with hy­brids, as new tech­nol­ogy comes you can move them out from the city cen­tre and end up with not just zero emis­sion in city cen­tres, but also low emis­sions fur­ther out as well.

ABC:

So with us not hav­ing Euro 6 manda­tory from a le­gal per­spec­tive yet, are we mov­ing too slow? Do we col­lec­tively need to adopt it even with­out the reg­u­la­tions? How do you see the evo­lu­tion of Euro 6 here and in this re­gion?

LD:

A lot of our cus­tomers are al­ready adopt­ing Euro 6 be­fore the leg­is­la­tion and we are happy to say at Volvo it doesn’t mat­ter what type of ve­hi­cle and emis­sion level you want, we have the largest prod­uct of­fer­ing in the mar­ket. Whether it be Euro 5, Euro 6, ar­tics, rigids or hy­brids – we can of­fer it all. There are chal­lenges, but I think the bus in­dus­try is ac­tu­ally more pro­gres­sive to­wards emis­sions stan­dards than, say, the truck­ing in­dus­try, where there are dif­fer­ent is­sues to face.

ABC:

And what about seatbelts on buses? School buses or coaches – should seatbelts be in all buses?

LD:

It’s a very top­i­cal ques­tion at the mo­ment; the chal­lenge is – and I’m sure you are aware of the reg­u­la­tions – as soon as we put seatbelts on all buses then with ADRs, standees be­come prob­lem­atic. That would mean more buses re­quired to do ser­vices, so great as an OEM [laughs], but ob­vi­ously cre­ates new chal­lenges at the same time.

ABC:

In NSW, many op­er­a­tors are com­plain­ing that ev­ery­thing is be­ing pri­va­tised and they are los­ing routes, that the gov­ern­ment is squeez­ing out the lit­tle op­er­a­tors and con­tracts are go­ing to other com­pa­nies, and those com­pa­nies are pos­si­bly just man­ag­ing the routes. How does that af­fect a com­pany like Volvo Bus and what does it need to do? If its ob­jec­tive is to have more buses sold, but with many op­er­a­tors mov­ing out of the in­dus­try – or some would say ar­guably forced out – is there not less de­mand on sup­ply from OEMs?

LD:

As I touched on be­fore the in­dus­try is rapidly chang­ing, and we clearly see our cus­tomers chang­ing in terms of their man­age­ment styles, their per­spec­tives, their ideas, their ser­vices.

And so we see com­pe­ten­cies such as cor­po­rate af­fairs, lob­by­ing, project and in­fra­struc­ture man­age­ment emerg­ing and grow­ing in im­por­tance. Mov­ing for­ward that’s what I see us fo­cussing on and re­ally en­hanc­ing, so we are ready to ad­dress the needs of our cus­tomers.

ABC:

What’s an in­ter­est­ing or­der that Volvo Bus has had lately? Are you sell­ing more buses than coaches, or what’s the ra­tio?

LD:

I think one of the ex­cit­ing ones was the La­trobe or­der of the first hy­brid fleet; that’s eight hy­brids go­ing in to La­trobe Val­ley Bus Lines. So in terms of that tech­nol­ogy – Euro 6 hy­brid – it’s re­ally ex­cit­ing.

But, ul­ti­mately, we’ve been blessed that we’ve been num­ber one for eight years now, so we have a num­ber of cus­tomers who have put their sup­port and their trust in us for a long time, so we thank them for their on­go­ing sup­port.

Yet we also want to as­sure them that we are work­ing harder than ever to not be com­pla­cent and are con­stantly try­ing new things and look­ing to con­tin­u­ously im­prove the ser­vice that we de­liver.

ABC:

Around the world, where does Volvo sit in terms of be­ing num­ber one in re­gions or coun­tries? Is it num­ber one in most coun­tries now?

LD:

When it comes to the Euro­peans, we are num­ber two, and ob­vi­ously places like Ger­many are dom­i­nated by the Ger­man man­u­fac­tur­ers, so you have a bit of a split there, but typ­i­cally we are num­ber one or num­ber two in al­most all mar­kets world­wide. ABC:

What’s the re­la­tion­ship like be­tween Volvo Bus and Volvo Trucks? Are they treated and op­er­ated as sep­a­rate en­ti­ties, or is there a co­op­er­a­tive link be­tween the two, or an over­lap of sorts?

LD:

No, no we are all part of the Volvo Group, so in terms of our dealer net­works – we have one of the largest dealer net­works in the coun­try with our co-op­er­a­tion with Trucks – we work very closely.

In say­ing that, how­ever, we have a num­ber of ded­i­cated Bus Ser­vice Cen­tres and have key bus-trained tech­ni­cians that work at those deal­er­ships as well.

And then there’s our Bus team; we ac­tu­ally have the largest ded­i­cated bus team here in Aus­tralia, so our team of 19 peo­ple

The in­dus­try and our cus­tomers are chang­ing and evolv­ing faster than ever be­fore.

Above: A home­grown Aussie gen­eral man­ager of a global trans­port gi­ant in Oz.

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