Six months after being let go by its sole shareholder – the Chinese group MA Steel – Valdunes, the last manufacturer of train wheels in France, was placed in receivership this Monday, November 20. The Lille commercial court, noting a situation of cessation of payment on November 8, nevertheless considers that a “recovery plan is possible”. The company and employee representatives will then appear at a first hearing, set for January 17, 2024.
The railway equipment manufacturer has around 320 employees. They are distributed between a forge in Leffrinckoucke, near Dunkirk, and Trith-Saint-Léger, near Valenciennes, where wheels and axles are machined.
“At this stage, we do not have an expression of interest for both sites, but we do have separate expressions of interest for each of the two sites,” indicated the Minister of Industry Roland Lescure, during a telephone press briefing.
Enough to give hope for a positive outcome, although caution remains in order. “We now hope that the receiver will be able to transform these expressions of interest into a takeover offer, and that the company can be taken over by a buyer who will ensure its sustainability,” reacted one of Valdunes’ lawyers, Me Jean-Charles Gancia. An elected official (CGT) at the company’s CSE, Maxime Savaux, for his part estimated that “there is hope of finding a serious buyer for the two sites”.
An essential external actor
To save Valdunes, the idea of a takeover by an Alstom-SNCF consortium, two major customers of the company, was launched last September by the general secretary of the CGT Sophie Binet. A lead that has since been ruled out. SNCF and Alstom are indeed ready to “play their role as responsible buyers” but not to become majority shareholders, according to the Ministry of Industry. The fact remains that the CGT denounced a few months ago the fact that the SNCF had “gradually diverted its orders towards European competition”which contributed to harming the French equipment manufacturer.
For Roland Lescure, the ” solution “ for Valdunes cannot in any case “not being Franco-French”. According to the ministry, Valdunes, which currently produces 30,000 wheels per year on average, should produce at least 80,000 to be profitable, or twice as much as the needs of the French market (SNCF, RATP and Alstom combined).
All solutions are on the table, reconversion included
This is not the first time that Valdunes has been placed in receivership. The company was in 2014 and the Valenciennes commercial court then chose the Chinese industrial group MA Steel to resume its activities. This sole shareholder announced last May that he “would not inject any more money” within the equipment manufacturer. The Valdunes union delegates then requested a temporary nationalization of the company, which Bercy rejected, preferring to help it find a majority buyer. An agreement was then reached between MA Steel and the State for continued activity until November.
The company, which has the cash necessary to operate until March, could require 65 million euros of investment over three years to relaunch its activity, estimates Bercy, indicating that two reports will be presented on Thursday on its precise needs. In any case, the State and the Hauts-de-France region announced in mid-October that they would make a financial commitment to support a possible recovery.
“The possible transformation of sites into other activities is one of the possible scenarios,” Roland Lescure also clarified.
Comments to which the elected representative of the company’s CSE responded. “Politicians have a responsibility to save French rail. We are told about the environment, ecological transition, green rail, national sovereignty. There, we tick all the boxes,” replied Maxime Savaux in front of the employees who had made the trip to the commercial court this Monday.