Only 600 to 950 jobs to be saved after bankruptcy Van Hool (update)

Yesterday, the commercial court of Malines officially adjudicated Belgian bus builder Van Hool in Koninghooikt (Lier). Last Friday, news broke that only one candidate was left for a takeover and quick restart: the combination of competitor Dutch VDL, which saw itself a challenging year in 2023, and German truck builder Schmitz Cargobull.

The latest news is that Guido Dumarey has again launched a bid on the company’s bus section, while the Belgian investment company CIM seems interested in the trailer part of the business, which is going into competition with Schmitz Cargobull.

However, according to Belga News Agency, it is still confirmed that only 600 to 950 of the 2,500 current jobs can be saved. The employees are informed first by a special works council, after which more details will be revealed in a press conference.

No future for bus building in Belgium

If the figures are confirmed, far fewer jobs will be saved than in crisis manager Mark Zwaaneveld’s initial plan. He saw no future for building buses in Belgium and projected that 1,116 of the 2,494 jobs currently at the company’s main factory in Koningshooikt (Lier) would disappear by 2028, 834 this year.

The whole bus production would move to Skopje, Northern Macedonia, where Van Hool has a modern factory, while the truck trailer division and R&D for the buses would remain in Koningshooikt.

Dumarey stepping in again, joined by CIM Capital

Yesterday, Belgian entrepreneur Guido Dumarey, who stepped out just before the weekend, suddenly came up with a new bid and claimed that he could save more jobs. Apparently, Dumarey has been contacted by ABC, the American distributor of Van Hool. That’s remarkable because the Van Hool family owns one-third of ABC’s shares.

In Belgium, the family has been totally put aside by the bankruptcy filing. Wrong decisions, the pandemic and its consequences, and a never-ending feud within the family have completely destroyed the once-so-proud bus and truck trailer manufacturer.

Initially, Dumarey wanted to streamline bus production to drastically reduce costs so that he would implement a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system before the end of 2024. He would use readily available components and offer fewer options and more standardized features rather than continuing on the path of bespoke manufacturing, which is Van Hool’s specialty today.

He also saw opportunities for industrial vehicles (a wide variety of specialty truck trailers) where Van Hool is still profitable, which could be expanded with a defense branch. Now, he has changed plans. Apparently, he’s only interested in the bus part of the deal, leaving the truck part to an offer from Schmitz Cargobull.

While, in his first offer, Dumarey wanted to keep part of the bus production in Belgium, his current proposal moves this completely to Macedonia. The worker unions have already reacted with disbelief. Dumarey isn’t mentioning the number of jobs he would save with its overtaking. If no production whatsoever is kept in Belgian Koningshooikt, they have serious doubts about his claim for more jobs to be saved.

Another party, CIM Capital, seems now ready to play along for the trailer section of the bankrupt Van Hool. Here also, the bidder pretends to save “many more jobs” than Schmitz Cargobull. Spicy detail: CIM Capital partly belongs to Marc Van Hool, part of the family branch that no longer had shares in the now-defunct bus builder.

VDL is having a problematic year itself

Now, it seems to go more in the direction of Zwaaneveld’s initial plans, but with far fewer personnel. Bus production would disappear in Koningshooikt, as VDL is producing buses itself nearby in the Netherlands and in Roeselare, Belgium, where it just inaugurated a brand new factory for electric buses.

Still, VDL Group isn’t in the strongest financial position. It had to close its car factory Nedcar in Born, paying for the layoffs of 2,000 people, including some 700 Belgian cross-border workers. The net result diminished due to non-recurrent expenses from €298  million to €82 million.

At the same time, VDL saw the turnover of its bus division shrink by 33% to 304 million euros. The main reason, says VDL, is delays in deliveries due to material shortages (like batteries) for the newly developed VDL Citea fully electric city bus and the startup of the new production location in Roeselare. The bus division itself is loss-making today.

Entry into the US market

Still, VDL top guy Willem van der Leegte confirmed his interest in a takeover of Van Hool, betting on synergies for both. With a takeover, VDL will get Van Hool’s factory in Macedonia, moving the current Van Hool bus production from Lier over there. By getting the share of Van Hool in American bus dealer ABC, VDL gets essential access to the US market.

For German truck trailer specialist Schmitz Cargobull, taking over Van Hool’s industrial vehicles division is interesting because of the existing expertise in building tank trailers. But the unions fear that the staff will be decreasing here, too. Today, Van Hool’s secondary business offers solutions for almost every transport task, from bulk goods to highly regulated pharmaceutical transport.

Contrary to what was believed before, Immoroc, which holds all real estate, will be included in the bankruptcy, too. The factory buildings and parking lots in Koninghooikt and the new factory in Skopje (Northern Macedonia) will also be dragged down in bankruptcy to recuperate €200 million of the outstanding €400 million in debts. That also means that the Van Hool family itself will lose everything.



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