The Alstom factory for sale in Reichshoffen (Bas-Rhin) is coveted by the Spanish CAF and the Czech Skoda. The French group has chosen to open exclusive negotiations with the smaller of the two, probably less dangerous in the short term.
The sale of Alstom's Reichshoffen (Bas-Rhin) train factory to a third party, imposed at the end of July by Brussels as one of the rather limited counterparts to the green light for the takeover of Bombardier Transport, is accelerating.
According to our information, the French group has finally chosen to open exclusive negotiations next Monday with the Czech Skoda Transportation (400 million euros in turnover) rather than with the Spanish CAF (2.7 billion).
The latter could represent, in the long term, a much more ambitious rival and aspires to strengthen itself in France, the second European railway market. An option that Alstom "does not wish to comment on" at this stage.
Until now, the tempo has not led to a hellish train: "the closing of the operation could take place after the closing of the acquisition of Bombardier, i.e. after the first quarter of 2021," explained Alstom's head office in recent days.
Indeed, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has not forced the group headed by Henri Poupart-Lafarge to close this sale at short notice: it is just a question of opening "exclusive negotiations" with a designated candidate beforehand, and if no agreement is signed before 31 July 2021, then a trustee will be in charge of the file, according to corroborating sources.
Two buyers for a factory
However, Alstom had little interest in going into extra time, while two candidates have come out of the woodwork, the Spanish CAF and the Czech Skoda Transportation, and the 850 employees of the Alsatian site (a thousand with temporary workers), have been wondering about their future for four months already.
Above all, another, more demanding issue awaits Alstom: the treatment of the duplication between its own technical and commercial organisation and that of Bombardier, primarily in Europe.
At the Alsatian site, the unions have expressed their preference in favour of the Spanish Basque group CAF. Believing that joining Skoda Transportation (which for a long time has had nothing to do with the automobile brand known for its Superb saloon cars, owned by Volkswagen) would mean bringing one more operator into the national rail market.
Owned by the Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, very present in telecoms, through its investment fund PPF, Skoda Transportation is a private joint stock company based in Pilsen, the beer capital of the west of the former Czechoslovakia, and is conspicuous by its absence in Western Europe.
CAF has the preference of the trade unions
Is Alstom betting that the Czech Republic, the less successful of the two candidates, represents less of a danger in the long run? Is it still holding a stubborn grudge against CAF, since it won at its expense the SNCF contract to renew the Intercités Paris-Toulouse and Paris-Clermont Ferrand trains (28 trains to be supplied from 2024, plus 75 options)? These trains will be assembled in the Pyrenean factory at Bagnères-de-Bigorre, the former CFD that the Basque company CAF bought in 2008, which at the time had a meagre customer portfolio.
CAF, which has already doubled in size in 5 years, thanks to its growth in countries such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and acquisitions such as the Polish bus manufacturer Solaris, is betting heavily on France to continue its expansion. All the more so as the current takeover of Bombardier Transport by Alstom will give the new group a quasi-monopoly position in France.
Without claiming to win everything in all segments, CAF, which has joined forces with Bombardier for the contract of the next renewal of the Ile-de-France RER B (an alliance of the "forward world"), has promised the Reichshoffen employees to saturate their factory, if it is selected for this programme expected in January 2021. A plan of load hoped for at least eight years.
Hence the preference given by the interunion CGC-CGT-FO to the Basque manufacturer's dossier. Other segments to be developed in the eyes of the Spanish: light trains wedged between the TGVs and TERs, whether battery or hydrogen powered, and night trains, as England has launched.