DAN PETTERSSON (VOLVO): “THE CRYSTAL BALL IS TOO SHADY RIGHT NOW”
In the fourth Busworld Academy Webinar 1050 participants from all over the world had registered to join. Since the Covid-19 crisis has spread around the world and is still active in various stages a number of countries is trying to resume business, not as usual but at a limited pace. In this webinar six speakers from several branches within the coach and bus industry gave their opinion and also an overview of the anti Covid-19 measures taken. The first contribution was by Mr. Dan Pettersson, Senior Vice President Business Unit Chassis at Volvo, and responsible for Volvo Buses International.
The first three Busworld webinars had as topic how to survive the Covid-19 crisis and this one, the fourth was looking ahead about how the industry can get back to normal operation after the Covid-19 crisis, as Jan Deman, director of Busworld Academy explained in his webinar opening words. Six speakers representing several branches of the industry, from OEM's to operators, from all over the world shared their reflections, suggestions and ideas. The coming days the speeches given by the other 5 speakers, Mr. Marc Hofmann, CEO CheckMyBus (Germany), Mr. Donald DeVivo, President DATTCO Inc. and Chairman ABA (USA), Mr. Tobias Stüber, CEO Flibco.com (Luxembourg), Pierre-Paul Pharand CEO Keolis (Canada) and Mr. D.R. Dharmaraj, Joint Secretary at BOCI (India) will also be published on Busworld ProductNews.
Dan Pettersson shared some reflections, not visions as he explained – “because the crystal ball is too shady right now”. His Volvo-division is working worldwide which gives him a good oversight about how the markets are responding to the Covid-19 crisis. “The markets are in many different stages, some like in Australia are functioning reasonably well where other markets are still in a complete lockdown. On top if this we also see other problems rising such as currency devaluations and also credit crunch as it seems that in some markets it is very hard to get financing. A lot of challenges are occurring at the same time.”
He sees that on a global basis city bus is the least effected as Volvo's telematics database with data from all over the world shows. “During the lockdown you see of course the effect, but as soon as the lockdown is lifted the buses start moving again. The city bus within public transport has a strong case in being prioritized in the plans of getting the economy working again. Investments in public transport normally provides big economic benefits.” On the other hand there are new elements which might impact the use of public transport such as “work from home” policies. Pettersson is wondering whether it is here to stay. “We see a change in policy at some companies. Also social distancing might be here to stay, will passengers keep accepting being put in overfilled vehicles? The effect from this might even be positive on the demand side for buses. Certainly it will has its effect on introducing new technologies. Will it speed-up or slow down the electrification process? Some countries and cities who are investing in this might increase the investments if its made part of the national recovery plans. Or are plans put on hold because of all the gaps in the economies to be filled already? The discussion will be: as a society on what do we spend our money?”
Coach and Tourism
Totally different is the situation in the coach and tourism sector. “These sectors are most severely hit. Buses are standing still, they have been parked. Then the question is how fast can we get back? Will there be permanent changes in the way tourist will behave and in how our business is working? What about regulatory limitations? What about the passengers feeling safe and secure and will they accept to be moved in an overfilled vehicle in relation to social distancing? Will international tourism change into national tourism?”
Pettersson raised the subject about how the industry is fragmented. A lot of small companies are involved and there is a risk that it will lead to consolidation. “Companies will go bankrupt which leads to consolidation. Also an overflow of used vehicles will try to find its way to the market and reduce the price of these vehicles.” As the saying goes: “never waist a good crisis”, Pettersson pointed out the opportunities the Covid-19 crisis is opening up. One of them is travelling by bus or rail instead of using the airplane which is for instance one of the conditions under which the French government has granted a billion euros support to Air France. Pettersson: “Is there a potential paradigm shift? Is it over with the extremely cheap airline tickets? It is worthwhile reflecting on this. Can it be that customers will look more to service, safety and quality instead of only the pricetag? I believe there are opportunities for coaches if we handle this in the right way.”
For the manufacturers Pettersson sees opportunities in products to maintain social distancing and hygiene. “Our Volvo unit Prevost in North America has introduced a whole range of products to equip the buses with. It will also be a part of the service we are offering, like cleaning and sanitation. But the Covid-19 measures can also mean that for the future we need completely new design requirements for our vehicles. We are already looking for an optimum in individual seating with or without screens etc. The demand is there so we will continue to develop these features. This will include enhancing the airconditioning systems. Although the crystal ball is still very hazy it will be clear that we cannot return to the exact same world we came from.”