A joint venture of German trailer builder Schmitz Cargobull and Dutch bus manufacturer VDL is to take over Van Hool, after the Belgian bus, road tanker and trailer manufacturer was declared bankrupt this morning (8 April).

Between 1,550 and 1,850 jobs will be lost at the manufacturer, which is based at Koningshooikt, near Antwerp, with Schmitz Cargobull planning to employ around 350 people in the future and VDL set to employ 300 to 600 staff.

An extraordinary works council meeting held this morning announced the sale and confirmed that all 2,500 employees will receive a dismissal letter, with the opportunity to re-apply for the remaining posts at the plant. 

Van Hool was established in 1947. The company, which is a Belgian independent manufacturer of buses, coaches and industrial vehicles, was dogged by a debt burden of €300m and an ongoing inheritance law dispute with its shareholders and the Van Hool family.

The joint venture of Schmitz Cargobull and VDL, which saw off rival bids from West Flemish entrepreneur Guido Dumarey and Dutch company Vlastuin, is reported to have plans for a new production facility at the Koningshooikt site.

Ahead of the works council meeting, Christophe Van Audenhove, of the liberal trade union ACLVB, told Belgian media channel VRT News that workers at the plant “have known for some time that any news will be bad news. Some will be relieved by the fact that they will still have some guarantees for the future, but I think disappointment will prevail.”

“Regardless of this we will continue to step up and assume our responsibility as union reps to ensure that the 600 to 900 people that will remain in employment can continue to work in the best possible conditions.”

Trailer market analyst Gary Beecroft, founder of consultancy Clear International, said: ”Schmitz Cargobull is the biggest trailer manufacturer in Europe, so we can assume they are only interested in Van Hool’s trailer manufacturing business.

”There is still a preference for Belgian wholesalers to buy Belgian trailers, to some extent, although not as much as in the past. So I reckon Schmitz would probably continue to build trailers in Belgium but they will probably be on chassis manufactured in Germany, with the bodywork fitted and the trailers finished in the Belgian plant.”

Beecroft also noted that whilst Schmitz does not make road tankers, it did until recently have a contract manufacturing agreement with road tanker manufacturer GRW, which saw the South African manufacturer take over one of Schmitz’s German plants in Toddin to make road tankers. However the GRW plant closed down in April last year, forcing Schmitz to move production to its plants in Gotha, Germany and Panevėžys, Lithuania.

Beecroft added: ”Van Hool also made road tanker trailers and so this deal may possibly also give Schmitz another outlet into that part of the market.”