Dr. Lutz Bertling, the president and chief operating officer of Canadian company Bombardier's transportation division, told Mamon that his company does not support the international boycott against Israel.
For over a decade now, Canadian multinational aerospace and transportation company Bombardier has been the leading foreign investor in Israeli transportation. Now, however, Chinese companies are threatening to eat into its activities in the railway field in Israel.
Bombardier is considered one of the world's largest manufacturers of railway equipment, and operates in 141 countries. In 2014, the company's profits amounted to 20.1 billion Euros.
Bombardier seeks to play a role in Tel Aviv's underground train project, the expansion of the light rail in Jerusalem, and of course in the field of railway electrification in Israel.
Bombardier recently found itself in a legal dispute with Chinese companies over one of the biggest bids in Israel for electric locomotives, valued at NIS 13.7 billion. Two Chinese companies merged, creating a problematic situation where two companies submitted competing bids against French company Alstom, Bombardier's competition, which raised the concern that they coordinated prices even before submitting their bids.
'The company is not for sale'
According to foreign reports, the Chinese companies have been in talks to buy Bombardier's Transportation Division for several weeks. Bertling, however, vehemently denies this and declares, for the first time, that Bombardier is not for sale, and that it is even considering issuing its stocks at the Frankfurt stock market.
"In no uncertain terms, Bombardier is completely not for sale. These are nonsense rumors spread by our competitors in an attempt to weaken us. The company's financial situation is excellent, we have excellent results," he says.
Bertling, who does business in many countries and is privy to comparative data in the railway field, is actually in awe of Israel.
"Every time I leave Israel, I already think of the next time I'm coming," he says. "The quality of railways is measured by how much it is being used, and the competition it poses private vehicles. We are very impressed with the fast increase in the number of passengers in the Israel Railways in recent years," he says.
What do you think is a reasonable time to finish construction on the light rail in Tel Aviv?
"It's hard to tell how long the work will take. In a western city, a project of this scale is usually done in 3-4 years, but here in central Israel there are several significant differences. This is a complex project because of the proximity to the sea and the high location of groundwater, and also because there is complicated infrastructure in central Israel. These are factors that delay the digging significantly. Construction on Berlin's new metro line, which is 6 kilometers long, lasted seven years, because of similar complexity with groundwater."
The Israeli government is enthusiastically encouraging the Chinese to invest here.
"The Chinese competitors get to every country, with the strong political support of their government, which wants to make railway a significant export field. As a result, they come with broad financial support, which sometimes reaches levels we are not allowed to reach because of western regulatory legislation, like in the OECD. What's important is to maintain fair competition, and let the best win."
The Chinese submitted two separate proposals for the electric locomotive bid in Israel, despite having merged.
"It's very simple, state laws and bid rules must be respected, everyone must honor them. Normally, one bidder submits one proposal, and in this bid there was one bidder that submitted two proposals. We had a similar situation 12 years ago, when we were bidding for the light rail in Jerusalem. Both us and Adtranz submitted bids, and during the process Bombardier bought Adtranz. We were fair and immediately pulled both bids, because we must respect the law and the rules."
'Boycott is blackmail'Have you ever receive politically-motivated demands to stop working in Israel?
"Bombardier has been here for a long time. We won our first bid here in 1999. We have never heard a request or a demand like that - not from Arab countries, nor from others. We operate in Abu Dhabi, Oman, Egypt, and others, and this is the first time I hear about this."
What do you think of the dispute between Partner and Orange?
"I'm not involved in the case, but from my point of view, these are politically-motivated decisions. The politicians decide when it's allowed to work with a certain country and when it's not. We also operate according to the instructions of the political echelons and in Bombardier's case it's Canada, a friend of Israel.
"If I receive a request not to work with Israel for political reasons, I'd be very uncomfortable. Requests to boycott Israel are a form of blackmail, and we will never agree to that. We don't operate in countries we are not allowed to operate in by the political echelons, like Iran, which is under sanctions."
Do you have a problem with Israel's railways going beyond the Green Line?
"This is not a problem. What do we provide? Railway systems to all residents, no matter their nationality. There is no apartheid in Israel. Eventually, everyone stands to gain from a good and effective railway, in any area it passes through. As far as we're concerned there is a green light to participate in all bids in Israel, even in upcoming bids over the Jerusalem light rail. It's not in our DNA to deal with political issues."
What are Bombardier's future plans in Israel?
"With the increase in demand from the Israel Railway, we will offer more double-deck coaches that turned out to be successful in Israel as well. In our electrification project, we have the electric locomotives that are already operating in many places across the world along with the double-deck coaches. The match between the carts and the electric locomotives is critical and complex, and we have a proven product that works great in many places."