In the beginning
Bernard Van Hool (° 05.03.1902 - † 06.03.1974) felt the pull of mechanics, construction and electricity at an early age. He was fascinated not only by maintaining machines, but most of all by coming up with smarter and newer ways of using them. He had created a diamond grinding mill and an egg incubating machine before WWII proved the catalyst for him to reinvent himself. He saw the need for suitable vehicles to transport materials for reconstruction.
His aim was to build infrastructure, bridges and roads and so he ended up converting an old coach into a means of transport. And, with that, he headed down the road we are still on today. The result was the first coach “De Trekvogel” (Bird of Passage).
The early years
When the company started, there were 22 employees and 6 family members. The first coachworks were a great success, often inspired by the large American cars in terms of model and design. From the beginning, Van Hool strove to have its own identity and design. In the process, Van Hool quickly learned the meaning of flexibility. He understood that, when building chassis, in order to work rationally and turn out quantity, he would have to develop a basic model. Customers could still add their personal touch to their coaches.
A CIS (Special Commercial Coachwork) division was created, to fill the months when fewer buses and coaches were being built with other bodywork.
Due to a decline in the market in the early fifties, Van Hool went to the Belgian Congo in search of business opportunities, which led in 1954 to the first Van Hool coach bodies being shipped to Leopoldville. It was also the impetus for later activities in Africa in, among other places, Nigeria, Angola and Tunisia and particularly Algeria.
The first coach bodies were delivered to the Netherlands, which would slowly but surely become a true home market. Construction of a new factory on the other side of the road.
Delivery of the 1,000th Van Hool coach body. Almost 500 coaches were built.
A family name becomes a brand
On 15 February 1957, a commercial agreement was signed with Fiat for the supply of engines and other mechanical parts (gearboxes, axles and steering wheels). Van Hool developed from a coachbuilder into a fully-fledged Belgian manufacturer of self-supporting buses and coaches, which bore the brand name Van Hool-Fiat. In 1961, Catrabel NV was founded, which would later lead, in 1965, to the start of industrial vehicle manufacturing. That same year, a new building complex was erected for the after-sales service (established in 1957), with warehouses and repair workshops for servicing.
In 1965, the first coaches were built for Great Britain. In the years that followed, these were awarded “Coach of the Year” five times in the British Coach Rally’s “Concours d'Elegance”.
The industrial leap
Internationalisation, growth, new markets and the socialisation of tourism meant that the development mill at Van Hool continued to turn. Long-distance tourism emerged, supported by the ever-expanding European motorway network. This brought about an important evolution: the manufacture of quite sophisticated vehicles designed for mass tourism and maximum profitability.
The success of the vehicles built in 1966-1967, with the entire range being completely redesigned, was due to the demands Van Hool had made of himself. The starting point was: what does the customer want?
In cooperation with the National Employment Office, the first welding school was founded; Van Hool constantly needed skilled workers and they were difficult, if not impossible, to find on the labour market.
On 6 March 1974 Bernard Van Hool died suddenly at a building fair in Brussels. He was there looking for information for the new production hall that was to be built. His motto: “Building is my life. To keep on building is your task. The road is ahead.” It’s a motto that is still lived by today.
Success despite the economic doldrums
On 6 July 1974: The foundation stone of the new I.V. factory was laid. On 1 January 1976, De Misstraat was renamed Bernard Van Hoolstraat, a tribute by the municipal council of Koningshooikt to its founder.
Van Hool presented its first integral city bus, the A120, with a versatile drivetrain offering. The new coachwork line for the Alizée coach range was presented at the Paris Salon.
The new integral coach was officially introduced at the Brussels Salon: the T8, an integral luxury coach with Alizée design. The T8 Acron became Van Hool's best-selling coach ever and is still praised today for its reliability, driving qualities and economic operating results. Van Hool introduced its AG280 articulated bus, which was based on the A120. Van Hool launched its midi buses AU141 and AU138. Together with the AG280, these buses formed the basis for the future development of the low-floor concept. Van Hool launched its very first tank container, the beginning of a success story. With its coachwork activities, Van Hool reached far-flung developing countries such as Nigeria, Angola and the Middle East. The industrial vehicles division found outlets in Europe (France, the Netherlands, Germany) and far beyond (Angola, Dubai, Laos, Iraq and more). The first coaches were delivered to Japan.
Growth from recession to recession
The first airport bus was delivered, to Belgian national carrier Sabena. In 1984, the big breakthrough for this new product type came with the delivery of 22 units to Milan. Van Hool airport buses currently operate at dozens of airports around the world. The first 10 integral T8 coaches were shipped to the USA, a modest beginning for what would later become a success story. Van Hool achieved an entry in the Guinness Book of Records with its 18 m long articulated "Jumbulance", the largest ambulance in the world, built for the British charity ACROSS.
The A500 low-floor bus was launched at the Brussels UITP exhibition. Van Hool was the first manufacturer to succeed in building a bus with a completely low floor over the vehicle’s entire length. In the I.V. division, new investments were made in offices and equipment. Production capacity increased to 20 units per day. An agreement was signed with ABC Bus Companies, Inc. of Florida for the exclusive distribution of Van Hool coaches in the USA. In the space of just a few years, Van Hool became the largest importer into the US. Van Hool took over LAG Bus in Bree, with a view to gaining additional production capacity. The coach model produced by LAG was transferred into a separate legal entity under the name EOS.
Ready for a new challenge
A new service parts warehouse was built, along with 2,000 sq. m. of new offices for the I.V. division. A new 6,000 m³ production facility for the underframes of the integral vehicles was set up, as was a 4,000 m³ building for finishing and production administration. Launch of the A300 low-floor bus at the UITP exhibition in Stockholm. Instead of opting for a totally new concept, Van Hool stuck to the familiar concept and design of the T8. At the Kortrijk Salon, the T815 Acron New Look was voted technically the best coach. In around 1997, Van Hool developed a number of buses with alternative energy sources: a hybrid bus, a bimodal trolleybus and a natural gas bus. The basic model of the new T9 coach range was premiered at the Kortrijk Salon. VAN HOOL began to respond to the new trend of transporting goods intermodally. Within a short time, a complete range of tank containers was developed, with a separate production line being set up for the purpose.
Growth through the turn of the century
Van Hool takes a minority stake in ABC Bus Companies, strengthening the strategic partnership between ABC and VAN HOOL. Thanks to this partnership, Van Hool luxury coaches have become the most sought-after European coaches in North America. A new manufacturing hall is commissioned for the production of gas tank containers. The new hall, which has a capacity of 450 units per year, makes it possible to realise a lightweight gas tank container concept that is in great demand from international leasing companies.
The new range of buses for public transport is presented. The Van Hool A330 is voted “Bus of the Year 2003” by a panel of trade journalists after extensive comparative research. In 2005, for the first time in history, the most advanced hydrogen-powered bus is presented to the American public. Van Hool succeeds in claiming this world first, working closely with the customer in California and the American fuel cell partner, United Technologies Power Inc. On 14 May 2007, the fuel cell bus for Europe is unveiled in the presence of Kathleen Van Brempt, Flemish Minister for Mobility, Social Economy and Equal Opportunities, and a representative of Fientje Moerman, Deputy Prime Minister and Flemish Minister for Economy, Enterprise, Science, Innovation and Foreign Trade. It is the first full-fledged hybrid bus (hydrogen-electric) to recover braking energy.
More new trolleybuses are ordered for Europe and Van Hool develops a whole range of diesel-electric hybrid buses.
Working together for peak performance
In early 2008, AC Transit places the largest single order of fuel cell buses in US history, an order for eight Van Hool A330 fuel cell buses. Van Hool introduces its new range of diesel-hybrid buses at the UITP public transport trade fair in Vienna: a midibus (A308Hyb), a standard bus (A300Hyb), and an articulated bus (AG300Hyb). In IV, innovation continues and a tank container for the transport of cryogenic gases is introduced. Even Google appreciates Van Hool's buses and orders 44 type T2145 coaches to transport its employees.
On the occasion of the UITP World Congress in Dubai, Van Hool presents the ExquiCity, a vehicle that combines the shape of a tram with the flexibility of a bus. Busworld 2011 in Kortrijk is the opportunity to introduce the TX, a completely new range of coaches. The TX instantly wins the Grand Award Coach and the Environment Award at Busworld.
In 2012, Van Hool celebrates its 65th anniversary, while in Skopje, Macedonia on 20 July of this year, the first stone is laid on the site of the new Van Hool Macedonia bus factory. Van Hool builds the largest airport bus in the world for the airport in Algeria.
In 2013, Van Hool celebrates 25 years of collaboration with its partner ABC, the exclusive dealer of Van Hool vehicles in North America. The celebration is marked by the introduction of new American models: the TX40, TX45 and the CX45. Van Hool delivers the largest fleet of fuel cell buses in Europe, 22 units, to Aberdeen, Scotland. At Busworld, Van Hool is one of the first to present a full range of Euro 6-ready buses. Van Hool premieres its first all-electric coach, the A308 E.
From 2015 Van Hool will build a new type of ‘standardised’ coach in Macedonia for Europe and new markets. The new vehicle is called the 'EX' (phonetic: e-iks) and will be available from the end of 2014. The EX responds to the increasing demand for lower cost vehicles.
In 2015, Van Hool develops a new type of 45' tank container together with BASF. The aim was to create a new system that would make conventional rail transport as fast and flexible as combined transport without losing the advantage of the existing high payloads in conventional rail transport.
Van Hool IV has an impressive order book, with an order from BASF for 482 tank containers. The tank container developed by Van Hool and BASF is optimised for rail transport and will possibly lead to a further shift of chemical goods transport from road to railway.
The city of Pau places an order for eight Exqui.City trams with Fuel Cell drive, a world first for a complete Bus Rapid Transit system with articulated buses.
Van Hool announces that it is to build the first all-electric coach for the US market, the CX45E.
In 2018 Van Hool builds 30 hydrogen buses for Cologne and 10 for Wuppertal (Germany). It is the largest order ever for hydrogen buses in Europe, the reward for the company’s constant commitment to new technologies and ecological solutions.
Van Hool plans to build a factory in Morristown, Tennessee, USA, which will produce around 400 buses a year for the North American public transport market. The Buy America Act obliges Van Hool to build a local factory if it wants to sell buses on the American public bus market, where there is a huge amount of growth potential.
Leading the way.
Van Hool presents three world premieres at BUSWORLD EUROPE 2019. The EX11, the newest and shortest model in the EX range; the fuel cell-powered Exqui.City for the French city of Pau;
The electric CX45E for the American market. Van Hool also introduces a number of new technologies on its vehicles that reflect the company's drive for innovation.
The order book remains nice and full but there is a market-wide shortage of professionals and technicians to assemble the increasingly complicated vehicles. In order to fill vacancies as quickly as possible, Van Hool organises regular Job Days.
The world is hit by corona. Apart from the human impact, the travel sector is particularly badly affected. Travel is no longer allowed, extensive modifications to coaches become mandatory and when travel is finally allowed again, people are reluctant to book holidays.
Van Hool offers air purification systems in all their vehicles, the so-called CAPS system (Clean Air Purifying System).
The CX45E is a huge success in America and orders are coming in all the time.
In 2022, Van Hool launches a completely new line, the A range.