Bus maker Gemilang eyes bigger international markets

The Johor-based manufacturer expects to expand its global footprint by securing tenders in Singapore, Dubai, Australia and Hong Kong 


JOHOR-based bus manufacturer Gemilang International Ltd remains focused on establishing its presence in the international market, with a keen eye on the electrical bus market. 

This year, the Hong Kong-listed company expects to expand its global footprint by securing tenders to supply electric buses across Singapore, Dubai, Australia and Hong Kong. 

“We are currently working on a new tender submission for Australia, apart from potential tenders for Malaysia, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We also see great potential in the US market,” Gemilang chairman and CEO Pang Chong Yong told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in an interview. 

Currently, Gemilang’s core markets consist of Singapore and Malaysia, which accounts for 16% and 13% respectively of its revenue. Its developed markets comprise Uzbekistan with a 25% revenue contribution, Australia at 14%, Hong Kong (12%), the US (10%) and others (7%). 

Pang says the govt has an important role to play in advocating the EV sector, as it requires huge infrastructure improvement

As more countries are transitioning to electric vehicles (EV), Gemilang — one of the pioneering manufacturers of aluminium and electric buses using Swissbased technology in Asia Pacific — believes it is well-positioned and equipped with the capabilities to fulfil demand. 

“We have exported to Singapore, Hong Kong, the US, Australia and Uzbekistan in 2022, and it is exciting to relook into those that we have exported to, such as New Zealand and the UAE, as the governments are driving the transition to zero-emission vehicles,” Pang said. 

Last year, the group secured numerous projects, namely partnering GreenPower Motor Co Inc to develop right-hand drive electric trucks, purchasing 200 electric buses from Energy Absolute pcl, supplying electric buses for a pilot project in Sabah, delivering 140 fully-electric school buses to California in the US, as well as securing its single largest order from Uzbekistan to supply 190 bus body. 

“2022 was a productive year for Gemilang, although the market was still slow compared to the years before the pandemic. 

“Besides the major contracts from the US and Uzbekistan, we are handling an increasing number of enquiries and tender preparation works, mainly for electric buses,” he noted. 

As part of its expansion, the group also purchased an additional 10 acres (4ha) of land to explore different business development opportunities and provide additional sources of income. 

“While we do practise the principle of having the leanest production possible, Gemilang sees opportunities to diversify our revenue base during the transition to renewable energy and zero-emission vehicles, and will carefully assess them while ensuring the readiness of the capacity,” he said. 

In its financial year ended Oct 31, 2022 (FY22), Gemilang recorded a net loss of US$1.38 million (RM5.95 million) versus a net profit of US$0.82 million (RM3.54 million) in the previous year, due to lower revenue from its sales of bus bodies and kits. 

Its revenue dropped 18% to US$27.47 million (RM118.59 million) in FY22 from US$33.53 million (RM144.75 million) previously. 

Despite the positive outlook for this year, the chairman remains cautious as he expects the group’s activities to slow down in the first half of 2023 (1H23) due to the festive seasons. 

“In the 1H23, I believe almost all sorts of holidays are happening — so we will be affected by the slow down,” he added. 

Eyeing Prasarana Contract 

Besides the international market, the group aims to put “more effort” into securing local projects. Gemilang has set a new target in the local market to secure a bus tender this year from Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, operator of the country’s urban rail and bus services. Through its Rapid Bus Sdn Bhd, Prasarana recently announced plans to add nearly 300 buses, including 100 electric buses, involving an allocation of RM180 million in 2024.

“On top of the projects accumulated from last year, we endeavour to put more effort on bidding for local projects. 

“The Prasarana project will be an important one for the industry as the procurement of city buses in the local market has been halted or slowed down since the Covid outbreak,” said Pang. 

Prasarana will start opening tenders in the first quarter of 2023 (1Q23) with the provision that they also cover the upgrading of infrastructure and electrical cables at the station depots for the charging process. 

Hence, Gemilang sees the tender as an opportunity for the group to promote its buses, especially the electric buses. Pang said Gemilang is working closely with its indirect wholly-owned subsidiary, Gemilang Coachwork Sdn Bhd, on the Prasarana bid. 

Gemilang has been supplying aluminium buses to Rapid KL, Go KL, Rapid Penang and MRT feeder buses for the past 14 years. The company targets public and private bus transportation operators when it markets its city aluminium buses and coaches. 

“The main revenue stream of Gemilang is from building city buses and these procurements are extensively dependent on government expenditure,” Pang said. 

The company’s target markets are government-linked companies such as Prasarana in Malaysia, Land Transport Authority (LTA) in Singapore and Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in the UAE. 

Despite the positive outlook for this year, Pang remains cautious as he expects the group’s activities to slow down in the 1H23 due to the festive seasons

Opportunities in Sabah, EV Sector

Gemilang is also keeping a close eye on developments in Sabah. It hopes to further extend its partnership with the Sabah state government’s strategic investment arm, Qhazanah Sabah Bhd, in supplying electric buses. 

In June 2022, Gemilang provided several units of electric buses to Qhazanah Sabah for a pilot project to deploy electric buses in Sabah. 

“So far, so good. The trial run is scheduled to end after the Chinese New Year and it is still uncertain how many units are to be deployed by Qhazanah Sabah, which also depends on the national budget to be announced by the newly elected government,” Pang said. 

At this juncture, Gemilang has proposed to the state government to supply about 50 units of electric buses to improve the public transportation system in Sabah, while introducing the use of emission-free vehicles. 

Touching on the EV sector in Malaysia, Pang sees growth potential for the sector as the country continues to urbanise with a growing population, making it crucial for EV to be implemented in many areas. 

“Now, our government and some private companies are very aggressive in (promoting) EVs, such as the EV charging stations. I hope to see more convenient EV charging stations in all small rural areas and towns,” he said. 

Pang opines the government has an important role to play in advocating the EV sector, as it requires huge infrastructure improvement. 

“Also, we would advise the bus operators not to be too price-sensitive while upgrading their fleets. As proven in many cases, cheaper products often ultimately result in higher total cost of ownership as they don’t last long, and are more expensive to maintain and operate,” he said.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition