Perhaps it is just coincidence but CMI, a 200-year old Belgian company hoping to buy Renault Trucks Defense (RTD) from Volvo, today organised a big event on its new Cockerill Campus in Commercy, eastern France, that looked for all the world like an exercise in lobbying. Attended by members of the defence commissions of both houses of the French parliament, a former defence minister, senior army and gendarmerie officers, local politicians and others, the event was a perfect occasion for Bernard Serin, the CEO, Jean-Luc Maurange, president of CMI Defence and Patrick Ribayrol, President of CMI Defence France, to stress just how French this Belgian company is.
The French aspect is important for CMI to stress because RTD is a major actor in the French Army’s Scorpion modernisation programme and the French government is pushing for the company to be bought by a French group. “In France CMI Defence has all the capacities of conception, development, production, training and maintenance necessary for current and future French programmes,” Ribayrol told the attendees.
Bidding against CMI, amongst others, is KNDS, the group formed by France’s Nexter and Germany’s Krauss Maffei Wegmann. Nexter is another of the three major groups involved in Scorpion. Thales is the third. “We told Volvo of our interest in buying RTD in April 2016, long before they publicly announced in November that they wanted to divest,” Maurange told FOB and two other journalists, adding that KNDS had been the clear favourite to win until recently, but CMI’s case was now being listened to more attentively.
“It’s not good for the French army to have only one vehicle supplier,” argues Ribayrol, a Lt-General who retired from the French Army in August 2015. He believes that as KNDS is still in its embryonic form it is not ready to welcome another company into the partnership.
“We are convinced that our offer, our capacity to innovate, to develop and (…) our ability to listen to and understand the armed forces and their operational needs can bring the answers and solutions to the expectations expressed by France,” Ribayrol had earlier told the assembly.
CMI is a private company held 80.65% by Ebenis SA (owned by Serin) and 19.35% by Dodeca SA (owned by a number of top managers of CMI). It is active in five sectors: Energy (solar power and heat recovery system); Industry (metals); Environment (created on 1 August 2016 to bring together all the groups environmental solutions); Services (largely in the nuclear, wind turbine and aeronautical sectors); and Defence (turrets and canons).
The group registered an estimated €1.1bn of orders in 2016, down on the record €1.4bn taken in each of 2015 and 2014 but these were considered exceptional. Its turnover in 2016 was an estimated €1.2bn, again slightly down on the €1.3bn of 2015 but overall continuing an upward trend year on year.
CMI has a total of 4,600 employees, of whom about 1,600 are employed in France and about 1,300 in Belgium.
The potential buyers of RTD are likely to be asked to submit their best and final offers in May or June and although Volvo had originally said it wanted to make a decision before the summer this is now looking unlikely, according to Serin, who believes Volvo is taking account of the French electoral calendar with the presidential elections in May.