1947 - 1956: The initial years
At the start of company, there were 22 employees and 6 family members (Bernard, brother-in-law Frans Van Bouwel and the 4 eldest sons Alfons, Jos, Denis and Paul). The first coaches were a big success: they were all expertly executed individual creations, often inspired by contemporary designs of large American cars. From the inception, Van Hool’s goal was to establish its own identity and design.
First exposure to the market at the Brussels Car Fair, a head-on confrontation with other coachbuilders. Product and name recognition were needed for the big breakthrough.
The first coachwork was sold abroad: to Jean Ross in Luxembourg. Bernard Van Hool soon understood that, in order to achieve a rational process in frame building, he had to develop a new and standard model. However, the customers were still able to give a personal touch to a coach by choosing the interior equipment, seats and colour combinations.
First order for the public sector, namely for the “Buurtspoorwegen” (10 bodies), with tender specifications and technical standards entirely different from the private market.,The foundation stones were laid for a cooperation agreement that would lead to Belgian bus manufacturing technology with international standing. The first really substantial order was obtained for 105 mobile workshops for the army and the state police, setting a firm foundation for the future volume manufacturing of commercial and industrial vehicles.
A CIS (Special Commercial Coachwork) department was created to provide work during the months of low demand for buses and coaches.
Due to a decline in the market in the early fifties, Van Hool looked at the Belgian Congo in search of new business. Starting from 1954, regular shipments of Van Hool coachwork were made to Leopoldstad, mounted on a Brossel-chassis. The tropical climate and difficult operating conditions demanded a great deal from Van Hool. Until 1976 Congo was an important Van Hool market (a total of more than 1,000 bodies). It was the impetus for later activities in Africa, among others in Nigeria, Angola, Tunisia and especially Algeria.
The first coach bodies were delivered to the Netherlands, slowly but surely becoming a home market.,Bernard Van Hool’s one-man business was converted into “Van Hool en Zonen pvba” (Van Hool and Sons Ltd.). Serial production was gaining importance and there was a need for specific manufacturing machinery that was not available on the market. Bernard Van Hool decided to build them himself.
Construction of a new factory on the other side of the road, now called the "Bernard Van Hoolstraat". End of 1955: At that time, the coachbuilding company had 222 people on the shop-floor and 17 office staff.
Delivery of the 1,000th Van Hool coach body. 500 coaches were built. The chassis were so diverse in construction and concept, that it was very difficult to ld standardised. Building chassis to an own concept would be the only way of getting away from a handicraft-type of manufacturing, and to become a genuine industry.