Taking on more responsibilities, Mr Mats Nilsson has just been appointed as Vice President of Volvo Buses Asia Pacific. With the new role, he is planning to have a fresh view of the markets now under his responsibility. In this exclusive interview we learn first-hand what he has planned to go forward.
To provide the context, one must look at the reach of Nilsson’s new responsibility. Volvo Buses has divided the markets into three distinct clusters: APAC South, which comprises of Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific nations. APAC Central, being ASEAN excluding the Philippines. Finally, APAC North, made up of Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Mainland China. APAC South is currently handled by Mitch Peden, who handled Volvo Truck's business in Malaysia before assuming his current role. Nilsson moves up from being responsible for APAC Central. And APAC North is headed by Emmanuel Jupet, who has extensive experience in the global bus industry and working experience in Asia. "What is interesting to see is that these three clusters should be about equal in terms of vehicle sales."
Having managed the Truck portfolio for Volvo – and other of the Group’s brands – for many years, Nilsson also knows that Trucks and Bus segments are fundamentally different. Buses are more customised and personalised, even more B2B centric with governments being large buyers of buses.
Nilsson stresses the importance of the Singaporean market, having had a presence for over 40 years in the island state. "We have a long and proud history with Singapore and actually, we have the highest number of vehicles on the road here as well as an important regional inventory of spare parts." Nilsson values the connectivity offered by Singapore in combination with the predictability of rules and legislation. In terms of economies of scale, Volvo Bus can also draw support from the other business units that have made Singapore their regional headquarters, too. Singapore is also known as a strategic location as an innovation hub. Volvo Bus demonstrated this with its collaboration with SC Auto for the development of fully electric buses, which were recently launched (Asian Buses reported).
"We are looking at evolution more than revolution. Now that we can travel again after the pandemic, we would need to get to the ground and see how we can close gaps in the product line-ups offered in the individual countries," Nilsson explained when asked about his ideas, having a fresh pair of eyes looking at the markets. He promised that Volvo Buses will continuously improve, acknowledging that there is always room for development. These improvements are dependent on the markets and their needs. Overall, Volvo Buses is aiming to ramp up efforts to bring sustainability more to the foreground. For instance, lifecycle environmental impact considerations will have to have a bigger share of attention in the future. According to him, the effort is to inject such thinking by informing and supporting various stakeholders to understand and consider these areas when drafting tender documents.
One way to gain insights from being on the ground, where the action is, would be to take a long bus tour. One such tour that Nilsson would like to embark on could be to travel across Vietnam as the country encapsulates a lot of aspects of the various markets he is handling. "Just like many of our markets, this is a country that is developing, there are regional differences, and the applications are highly varied."
In line with his new role, Nilsson would also have to shift gears when it comes to managing teams. Although Volvo Buses, like many European organisations, has a flat hierarchy, there are still clear processes in place; Decisions need to be validated and confirmed. "Smart delegation might sound like a cliche, however, if you are handling markets of this size, you cannot get involved in every little detail of the business, but you have to empower and trust in the ownership each employee has in their role." Ideally, Nilsson would like to see the organisation as an inverted pyramid, whereby the leader of the organisation carries the broader numbers of staff that execute their many, various functions. Within Volvo Buses, the leadership is to walk the talk and be seen as coaches and mistakes or challenges should, in principle, be perceived as opportunities to learn, not to instil fear in the teams.
With the re-opening of economies post-pandemic, OEMs expected that demand would have picked up in 2022. However, it has taken until now for the demand for buses to be picking up again. Private operators are now also starting to purchase buses again. "We note that in Malaysia, banks seemed a bit conservative, which might have stifled the enthusiasm to some extent." What Nilsson is observing is that countries recover at different paces. This in turn triggered Volvo Buses to address these situations with tailored solutions. Whenever possible, financing solutions will be offered, whereas in other cases vehicle health checks are what is needed.
Buses have long since taken the lead in the electrification of transport. This global trend is another focal point for Nilsson now. “It is about creating cleaner cities and the idea that the emissions could be taken out of urban areas is a key driver.” Although many cities and countries are very ambitious, the entire ecosystem needs to be adjusted accordingly. Here, Volvo Buses will be leveraging on its extensive network of partners. With the rise of electromobility, new entrants made their debut. Nilsson underlined that it is the solid support network, and the long history and global experience of Volvo is what will eventually prevail in the bidding war for public investments. "The support to our customers has been a key decision maker for many of our clients for many years and I expect that this will result in a change in the competitive landscape in the next five to ten years."
A challenge going forward will be to continue forging partnerships with suitable partners in the various markets. Electromobility requires stronger networks and partners that understand the business and intricacies of the new technology. "It will be a challenge and a commitment from different stakeholders to balance short terms gains from exploiting obvious opportunities and long-term commitments."
Thanks to Asian Buses for the collaboration in developing this article.