If it wins more orders from UK operators, will Stadler consider building an assembly plant here, as it has in Hungary and Poland?
“I would not exclude it,” says Jenelten. “We’re always positive and analysing opportunities, but we only signed the GA deal three months ago, so it’s all still quite new.
“GA gives us a strong presence in maintenance with around 200 employees there soon. We also hope that we can develop the UK supply industry - as we have in other countries where we’ve won contracts, such as Finland. A Finnish company now supplies more than 50% of our passenger information systems. A weak Pound should be an advantage for UK suppliers.
“Ralf and our procurement department are talking to UK suppliers already. We’re looking for sustainable development opportunities, and by March we’ll know what possibilities there are. We’re always analysing and we can move very fast - never say ‘no’!”
What can British passengers expect from Stadler trains that they might not see from other suppliers?
“We are well known for reliable trains - we are proud of the Swiss quality we deliver to our customers, and we try to provide more comfort for our passengers. For example, we have stepless entrances - sliding steps so there’s no gap between train and platform, and no stairs within the car. We also use high-quality materials for our interiors - something that you can feel when you travel on them. Last but not least, for our operators we can deliver lower lifecycle costs because the trains are built to be reliable.”
Do those higher quality materials mean that Stadler’s trains are more expensive than their rivals?
“Evidence doesn’t confirm that,” responds Warwel. “We try to equalise it through other methods, but we feel we’re on the same price level as our competitors.”
Jenelten adds: “Our experience shows that it makes sense to install more quality at the start, as this will have a positive impact on the warranty costs later.”
Despite its remarkable successes over the last decade and a half, it hasn’t always been straightforward for Stadler. After record-breaking numbers of orders in 2014, the company felt the after-effects of the Swiss Government’s decision to remove the exchange rate cap with the Euro in 2015.
At 2.1 billion Swiss Francs (CHF), the amount of orders received in 2015 was good, but lower than in the previous two years, in which orders totalled CHF2.6bn and CHF2.8bn respectively. However, its profit margins collapsed due to the unfavourable exchange rate. This ‘Frankenschock’ cost Stadler more than CHF 100 million - an amount that would otherwise have funded innovations.
Over the past couple of years, Stadler has also been exposed to the financial crisis in Russia and its effects on neighbouring countries. Orders for KISS double-deck EMUs have been cut back or cancelled, although some of the trains already built have been sold to Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Does the UK’s decision to leave the European Union make it a more or less attractive environment for Stadler?
“It remains attractive,” confirms Jenelten. “I’m convinced that the politicians will ensure there’s no gap for businesses when the UK exits the EU. There are working groups already between the UK and other countries - including Switzerland - to safeguard economic and trading relationships. We don’t expect any negative impact. The exchange rate with the Swiss Franc has always been volatile, but this is normal business for us.”
Acquisitions of facilities such as Vossloh’s Valencia plant, and the recent move into the UK and US markets, are part of the company’s new core strategy to expand into new market segments and launch a range of new products.
As well as its established families of passenger trains, Stadler can now also supply diesel, electric and hybrid locomotives - including Europe’s most powerful diesel design, the EURO4000 - and tram-trains, such as the ‘Citylink’ type being delivered to Sheffield Supertram and Karlsruhe in Germany. Do Jenelten and Warwel have their eye on any other UK rail contracts?
“Yes, of course,” replies Jenelten enthusiastically. “We have analysed the franchises coming up for renewal and are in contact with financial institutions, potential bidders and so on, and we’re aiming to win more contracts. The exception is HS2, because we don’t have any very high speed trains in our product range.”
As it prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary in May 2017, Stadler gives every impression of a company determined to become Europe’s fourth global player in the rail vehicles market. While it may still be an unknown quantity to British rail users, if Greater Anglia’s FLIRTs and Merseyrail’s new trains live up to the high standards of quality and reliability set by Stadler trains elsewhere in Europe, they could set a new benchmark for British passenger trains.