Dutch crisis manager to put Van Hool back on track

With the immediate appointment of Mark Zwaaneveld (62) as co-CEO, Belgian bus and touring car builder Van Hool is getting a shrewd crisis manager in-house to put the company back on track after four years of doom. Zwaaneveld will focus on a restructuring plan, while Filip Van Hool (59), the founding family’s third generation, runs the daily business.

According to the bus builder, the Covid-19 pandemic and following supply shortages and geopolitical conflicts have seriously impacted the group’s financial results. The sales of luxury coaches, in particular, making out up to 80% of turnover, came to a complete standstill from 2020 until 2022, causing losses of up to €60 million a year. Now, there is some recovery in order volumes.

It’s a pity, as in 2021, Van Hool presented the TDX25E Astromega, its first double-deck electric coach, targeted to the US market. It offers a range of 500 km for 69 passengers, 18 on the lower deck and 51 on the upper deck. Apparently, at that time, the company hoped demand for double-deck coaches, which was nowhere as high as in America, would remain.

Veteran in restructuring

Dutchman Mark Zwaaneveld is considered a veteran in breathing new life into moribund enterprises. He started his early career at DAF Trucks, passing through several positions and companies to become CEO of

There, he attracted international attention by restructuring and transforming the company

Rebuilding Greenyards

Then he switched to another company gasping for breath, vegetable giant Greenyards in Sint-Katelijne-Waver, where he assisted owner and CEO Hein Deprez as co-CEO in turning the business into a €5 billion world leader in

Now, he’s hired by the Van Hool family to use the same skills to get the bus builder back on track. But as previous restructurings at Van Gansewinkel and Greenyeards didn’t come without job losses and selling off company parts, the unions fear this won’t pass without collateral damage.

Expertise in zero-emission

The Belgian bus builder, who celebrated its 75 years of existence in the ‘dark’ period of 2022, has quite some expertise in developing zero-emission buses and coaches, which should promise a brighter future. In Europe, public transport companies are accelerating the transition, replacing old diesel fleets.

Just last week, the news broke that after signing last year a contract with Qbuzz, a public transport operator in the Netherlands, to deliver 54 battery-electric buses of its latest type A battery-electric city bus, Van Hool may deliver another 112 before the end of this year. That’s a gift from the gods, as up to 65% of the employees in Lier have been technically unemployed since the pandemic.

Battery-electric, fuel cell, or trolley

The A-model line was presented in Paris in June 2022 and comes in four lengths: 12 m, 13 m, 18 m, and 24 m. They get a zero-emission drivetrain that can be battery-electric, fuel cell on hydrogen, or fed with a pantograph by an overhead contact wire, the so-called trolley-buses.

The ones for Qbuzz are battery-electric with a 310 kW motor and an LFP battery pack with a capacity of 578 kWh. They are developed by the Van Hool knowledge center in Koningshooikt (Lier) in Belgium and can be built in the Belgian or Macedonian factory of the company.

De Lijn buys BYD buses

For Van Hool, it was a hard nut to crack when the news broke that the Flemish public transport operator De Lijn ordered 92 standard electric buses from Chinese bus maker BYD. The order, representing an investment of over 43 million euros, follows the award by De Lijn’s board of directors of a new framework agreement of up to 500 standard e-buses to BYD Europe.

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