Steve Higgs, International Fleet Sales: from manufacturer to customer
After more than four decades at General Motors (GM), Global & North American Fleet Development Manager Steve Higgs retired from the company in 2019. But what is he doing now?
He is currently the fleet sales development manager for US-based international vehicle export distributor International Fleet Sales, a topic we discussed on the sidelines of the 2019 Global Fleet Conference in Miami in early June.
Could you start off by giving us a little background information and tell us how you ended up at International Fleet Sales?
Higgs: Sure, as you already know, I worked for General Motors for quite a while, I’d say just over 46 years. GM took me straight out of high school and put me through college where I learned mechanical engineering. It was a great company to work for and it was an honor being with them all those years.
However, in January, I had an opportunity for an early retirement program, and I took it. I am now working with International Fleet Sales (IFS) of which I was already working for at the time of retirement, I’d say approximately five years.
Could you tell me a little about International Fleet Sales?
Higgs: Established some 20 years ago, IFS works hand-in-hand with GM and other vehicle manufacturers. What it does is cover markets where a product line has been taken out of a portfolio, supporting regions with demand but just not enough for a manufacturer to remain in the country.
We also help OEMs test markets by introducing new vehicle models, much like a seed product for a country. Overall, we work with suppliers by handling vehicle shipping from the time it leaves the U.S. to the time it is sold to the customer.
This includes making sure that all paperwork is in order (e.g. export control regulations, homologation, and having literature in the local language).
And who are your customers?
Higgs: A customer could be a dealer body, a fleet management company, or an end user. It could also be an NGO or a group like the United Nations which often seek a similar vehicle type across multiple countries, and sometimes requiring a rapid response during times of emergencies.
Chevrolet Silverado 3500HD 4WD Military Ambulance for international operations (Source: IFS)
What is the key to a successful transaction?
Higgs: Well, for us, post sales service is key. It is very important to know that we can service the vehicle and handle any warrantee claims or need for parts in the countries we are present in. After being sold, the vehicle must have a long period of time of which it can be used.
And what is your coverage area?
Higgs: We are global, covering regions such as Africa, the Middle East, South America, the Caribbean, and China. I work out of Detroit, but we have representation in places such as the Netherlands, China, and Colombia.
What region do you see more opportunity in?
Higgs: We see a good opportunity to help OEMs with the Sub-Saharan Africa region as it has a pretty good dealer structure. Latin America is also strong, but they don’t have all the vehicle types. The region has some hybrids, but it’s still quite behind when it comes to electric vehicles.
Actually, almost every country has some type of opportunity. It may not be in high volume, and that is why the OEMs are not there, but smaller volumes are still an opportunity for us.
What trend do you see taking place throughout the world today?
Higgs: In terms of emissions and safety, many countries are copying the European standard. We have Nigeria in Africa, Israel in the Middle-East, and China as well, the latter of which is taking on the change quite rapidly (e.g. electric vehicles).
With that said, however, I’d still like to say there is still opportunity to provide standard [combustion engine] vehicles today due to the lack of charging stations in smaller cities and rural areas.
Any last words?
Higgs: Well, if you have any questions about what vehicle type would work for you or if you are a manufacturer who is unsure of demand in a region, don’t hesitate to contact us. You’ll never know if you don’t call.