Van Hool: VDL and Schmitz Cargobull bids chosen

On Wednesday evening, two days after Van Hool had been declared bankrupt by the Court in Mechelen, the curators finally chose the initial bids of VDL  (for the bus section) and Schmitz Cargobull (for the trailer section).

The curators thoroughly investigated the bids of the Dutch VDL Group and the South African GRW company (a partner company of Schmitz Cargobull) after discussing them with all stakeholders and comparing them with the latest bids of entrepreneur Guido Dumarey, ABC, and CIM Capital.

“The interest from all parties was very sincere and showed a good appreciation for the Van Hool company and its employees,” says curator Jeroen Pinoy. “When comparing the propositions, also the very recent ones, the latter didn’t seem significantly better than the earlier ones of VDL Group and GRW,” he adds.

“There was a great risk that if a restart were delayed too long, the potential of good employees and the still-running activities and orders at Van Hool would be completely lost,” Pinoy explains.  A further postponement of deliveries would also have financial implications and would have dried the distribution channels. “This is the best solution for employment and a durable restart,” Pinoy concludes.

Unions disappointed

“The disappointment and the impact of this bankruptcy remain huge,” says Kim Samison of the ACV union. “This will not only have a serious direct effect on the Van Hool employees and their families but also on the region and the manufacturing industry in general.”

Hundreds of former Van Hool employees have already registered at the Flemish Service for Work Counseling (VDAB) to look for another job. “The curators have done their homework; after all the plot twists and the uncertainty involved, there is only one way forward,” Samison concludes.

Finally, there is hope that a maximum of 950 of the 2,500 employees will be re-employed in the former Van Hool premises in Koningshooikt. The production of Van Hool buses in northern Macedonia should be restarted ASAP, as many people were already leaving their jobs when the bad news was communicated.

Strange coincidence

Also, yesterday, VDL Group finally opened its new bus assembly facility in Roeselare (West Flanders). The Dutch holding already announced in 2018 that the old premises were out of date and that a new factory working along new production methods was a necessity.

Yesterday, Flemish Minister-President Jambon, Mobility Minister Lydia Peeters, and the top of VDL, global CEO van der Steeg, and CEO of the bus division Rolf-Jan Zweep officially inaugurated the new premises.

The new premises in Roeselare are state of the art in bus and coach building /VDL Group

Zweep took the opportunity to warn the politicians about the many challenges his sector faces. “We need a level playing field,” he said.

“Our Chinese competitors can offer their products here without restrictions, and we don’t have access to the Chinese market,” he added. “On top of that, the Chinese bus builders are heavily subsidized by the Chinese government and can use their home market to realize volumes that can support the export.”

VDL’s bus division is already in the red for years. “We will take huge steps in the good direction this year, Zweep commented, “but our clients will have to consider that durable quality buses made in Europe have a price tag. As long as we give the Chinese competitors unrestricted access, we can’t argue with potential clients about why our buses cost what we ask for them.”

Nevertheless, VDL wants to continue producing buses in Belgium and the Netherlands. “At first sight, this seems like rowing against the tide, but we are strong believers in a manufacturing industry in Western Europe.” The fact that very skilled and qualitative personnel are available here also plays a big role, Zweep added. “For buses, one needs really qualified workers who know how a bus is designed.”


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