No obligation?

The predicament of a swathe of European coach and bus operators who’ve paid deposits for vehicles – including articulated buses for the summer Olympics – now trapped in Van Hool factories in various stages of build or none, has caused predictable concern.

Anyone in business knows that, every now and then, you can fall victim to suppliers shutting down unexpectedly. As one Van Hool customer told me, it’s often best to take it on the chin and move on with your working life, as he has done despite a six-figure sum now unlikely to result in coaches or a refund, he feels.

Nor does VDL Groep, whose deal snapped up most of Van Hool’s coach assets, have any obligation to fulfil contracts which it had not created. A statement from the company explains as much.

So those caught up in the demise of Van Hool perhaps cannot expect VDL to add to their acquisition costs by refunding deposits; those debts will be accounted for by the receiver when all the calculations are complete.

What seems to me less acceptable is for operators, who paid in good faith for their coaches, to be kept in the dark, months after the acquisition, especially as VDL is itself a coach manufacturer and should recognise that many of those out of pocket are potential customers. Communication should, surely, be a given even if the message is that VDL is doing its best to find a resolution.

I am sure that VDL has a lot of issues to unwind as it formulates a plan to rekindle manufacturing at Van Hool in North Macedonia and Belgium. Its primary objective must, of course, be the protection of its existing business, which reported improved but challenging returns in 2023, with car assembly in the Netherlands winding down and losses reported for its Bus & Coach Division among issues.

But the impact of losing coach deposits or worse to those operators who have been left hanging, not knowing what is going on, is worse in an industry that is often highly geared in spring. It’s a feature of the coach industry that, by and large, goodwill is a core principle of the way in which it functions. I feel sure that VDL is working through its priorities. I’m just unsure why potential customers are at the bottom of the list.

A couple of weeks ago, I began planning an analysis of which political party had the best promises for the bus industry. One by one, I read through the party manifestos for clear policies and objectives, do-able ideas and a vision for coach and bus.

You won’t be getting that analysis because I have very little to write about. Buses are a footnote beneath rail and air travel, and nothing of any real substance has been pledged bar vague pots of money and blatherings about local control of buses. Coaches get no mentions, anywhere.

So your vote gets less complicated, the core issues no longer clouded by what you think may be best for the coach and bus industries. As a lifelong democrat, though, I implore you to vote, no matter how lacklustre the options.

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