-

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Mike Libasci recognized an unmet need and went to work to resolve it.

The result: International Fleet Sales (IFS), founded in 1999 to meet the singular needs of international buyers of North American General Motors (GM) vehicles. 

Today, IFS works closely with GM (as the only approved exporter of GM North American products) and other manufacturers to offer a comprehensive array of services to customers worldwide who need to find, customize, and import high-quality cars and trucks.

The company is headquartered in San Leandro, California, with offices in Europe and Shanghai. 

 

Full Services Support Global Fleets

According to Kreg Kitchen, IFS vice president, the company’s full-service offerings set it apart from vehicle brokers. 

IFS works with each customer to identify a portfolio of cost-effective product options best suited to their needs. The portfolio considers application specifications, environment, locale, regulation, and legal concerns.

Company services include vehicle order management and shipping logistics, financial options, upfitting, parts supply, technical support and training, and warranty and vehicle recall administration. 

“With 22 years of corporate experience, our strength lies in our team’s depth of knowledge, flexibility, and ability to serve clients from the beginning to the end,” Kitchen explained.

 

Working with OEM Partners

The IFS vehicle lineup includes passenger vehicles; light-, medium-, and heavy-duty trucks; and upfit vans and buses that represent such brands as GM, Chevrolet, Cadillac, Isuzu, International, and Navistar. 

Kitchen points out that IFS honors agreements with GM and other OEMs. “We are careful not to promote manufacturers whose vehicles compete with our agreement partners… IFS does not compete with OEMs but complements, supplements, and adds value to OEM products.”

IFS also assists OEM partners to “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,” said Steve Higgs, IFS international sales development manager.

“We also help OEMs test-market new vehicle models and introduce those models in a country,” Higgs added. “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, including handling necessary paperwork (e.g., export control regulations and homologation approvals by local authorities) and having literature in the local language.” 

 

Customer Base Spans Globe

IFS customers include corporations—“from small to very large”—governments, nonprofit organizations, and dealer groups. 

The company provides particular value to nonprofit customers. The IFS Aid & Development team helps humanitarian organizations “redirect valuable time, focus, and funding from transportation and logistics to the achievement of their important ultimate goals.”

For example, IFS works with GM to provide sales, service, and fleet-managed solutions featuring GM Thailand’s Chevrolet Colorado and Trailblazer products—“vehicles perfectly engineered and equipped for the demanding environments in which humanitarian organizations operate,” according to Kitchen. 

The United Nations (UN) is another customer. For the UN, IFS established an agreement with Chinese manufacturer SINO to provide heavy-duty trucks, including water tankers and refrigerated trucks, for UN efforts in Africa. 

 

A Look Ahead: Challenges & Opportunities

Along with the rest of the world, IFS faces the complexity of managing the supply chain and the microchip shortage, said Kitchen. 

To help ease the pain of these challenges, Higgs urges the IFS customer base to “become forward-thinking.” He advises fleet managers to plan ahead and make decisions early in the process, working within current supply constraints in real time.

The global drive to electrification is another multifaceted industry challenge but one Kitchen and Higgs believe also poses opportunities for IFS. 

“Which markets will adapt first to wholesale vehicle electrification?” Kitchen posed. “And which markets will continue to need internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered vehicles?” 

Presenting another puzzle are the many markets where a “marriage” of electric vehicles (EV) and ICE-vehicles will exist as fleets transition to EVs but maintain ICE units for certain applications. 

“Fleet will be converting to all or nearly all-electric over a number of years,” said Kitchen. “How will that balance be managed? The opportunity for IFS is helping fleets throughout the conversion process with services not only for EVs but remaining ICEs.”

The required electrification infrastructure is  another expensive factor, Higgs pointed out. 

“The desire is there—often promoted or mandated by governments—but the reality is another issue. For example, the average time to create a depot with 20 new supercharging stations is 18 months,” said Higgs. 

Some nations are moving ahead in developing EV infrastructure. “At the forefront are Europe, Israel, Costa Rica, and China, where government policy aims to be the global leader in electrification,” Higgs says. 

Less developed countries and regions aspire to transition, but expense and other obstacles such as frequent rolling blackouts hinder infrastructure construction, says Higgs. He also acknowledges that even with the push toward electrification, there will always be a need for ICE vehicles. IFS partnerships and OEM agreements will serve that customer need.

Identifying and filling needs has always been at the forefront of IFS, from its 1999 foundation into the future. “We are always looking for opportunities to expand capabilities and product offerings in the marketplace,” says Kitchen. 

 

Steve Higgs: Founding Member, Global Fleet Hall of Fame

 -
Born in Luton, Bedfordshire, UK, site of Vauxhall Motors headquarters, Steve Higgs seemed destined for a career in the automotive industry. His first job was at Vauxhall (then a subsidiary of General Motors), now owned by Stellantis.

“It was a great company to work for,” Higgs says. “They put me through college where I learned mechanical engineering.”

So began a lifetime in automotive: more than 46 years at GM and now with International Fleet Sales (IFS). 

Widely known and respected in the global fleet arena, Higgs was a natural choice for founding membership in the Global Fleet Management Hall of Fame, presented at the recent Global Fleet Conference in Miami, Florida. 

“Surprised and very honored,” Higgs says. “I owe it to a lot of support from GM senior management with fleet and finance.”

Sponsored by Swedish automaker Polestar, the Global Fleet Hall of Fame recognizes multinational fleet industry leaders for careers marked by hard work, dedication, and success. They lead the global fleet challenge, sharing industry knowledge, best practices, and expertise. 

 

 

Joining GM’s Global Efforts

At GM, Higgs became sales district manager for northern Scotland, working with dealers and customers. His role expanded to regional management of all Scotland, northern England, and Northern Ireland.

“I developed an understanding of how dealers’ needs and how they operated,” Higgs recalls. 

In 1999, as large multinational corporations approached automotive OEMs to leverage their global procurement footprints, GM created the position of manager, global & North American fleet development, appointing Higgs to the post.

Moving to the U.S. with “family, dog, and a cat,” Higgs soon launched a GM Fleet Operations global website and expanded GM’s internal communications to respond to multinational fleet needs in major markets. He next established a GM Global Fleet Advisory Board.

Over the next few decades, Higgs created a global network of friends and contacts. His philosophy—“Never let the first NO be the final answer!”—speaks to his negotiations skills and ability to foster communications between manufacturers and customers.

“When customers fully understand what the manufacturer has done and then have the opportunity to provide input, the manufacturer can use those insights to better fill customers’ needs,” he pointed out. 

In 2019, Higgs took early retirement from GM but remained in the industry. He now “very much enjoys” his role as international sales development manager for IFS, the only approved dealer GM product exporter to outside the U.S. 

 

Meeting a Changing Industry

“Change is happening more rapidly than ever in fleet,” Higgs says. 

“The importance of driver safety has grown, as well as the increasing part technology plays in creating fleet efficiencies,” says the industry veteran.

Fleet operations that initially reported to the procurement department now must be far more strategic in working with procurement and human resources and financial units, he believes.

Higgs has witnessed the changing role of fleet management companies as smaller fleets turn to them for help with government regulations, measures, and technology.

“Fleet management companies have the personal and broad-based knowledge to help fleets, increasingly with mid- to small-size fleets with information and strategies,” Higgs says. 

He also cites the challenge of the growing green movement as more companies are pushed by their governments to invest in alternative energy technologies. 

“Get involved as much as possible with manufacturers and fleet management companies,” he advises today’s fleet managers. “Trust what these partners tell you; by helping you, they help themselves. They are a guide to what’s out there.”

 

Further Reading 

The 2021 Global Fleet Hall of Fame Inductees 

Four Ways to Keep Women Working in Global Fleets

0 Comments