Wrightbus wins major contract for fuel-efficient buses

Wrightbus builds buses at its factory in Ballymena, County Antrim, and is one of NI's biggest employers

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Wrightbus, the County Antrim bus building firm, has won the lion's share of a £70m contract to provide 425 vehicles to the UK firm FirstGroup.

Wrightbus will provide 301 buses. Most will be of a new design, using hybrid technology to improve fuel efficiency.

FirstGroup and Wrightbus worked in partnership throughout 2013 to test and develop the Micro Hybrid buses.

The new buses recover braking energy, store it and use it to power pneumatic, electrical and hydraulic systems.

These systems would otherwise require power from the engine but, by using the energy harvested from the braking system, it reduces overall fuel consumption by around 10%.

'Groundbreaking'

This means the buses qualify for Low Carbon Emission status which allows operators to claim a government fuel subsidy of 6p per km in England and 14p per km in Scotland.

Giles Fearnley, managing director of FirstGroup's UK bus division, said the partnership with Wrightbus has been "groundbreaking".

He said it gave levels of fuel efficiency, that, "until recently, few in the bus industry would have believed possible".

"In 2013 we laid down the gauntlet to bus manufacturers to work with us to minimise fuel consumption," Mr Fearnley said.

Boris Johnston driving a Wrightbus vehicle Wrightbus is best known for making the so-called 'Boris bus', replacing the London Routemaster

"Wrightbus embraced that challenge and together we've developed its StreetLite Micro Hybrid product. I am immensely proud of our collective achievements."

Group managing director of Wrights Group, Mark Nodder, said that when challenged to develop a more efficient bus the firm "grasped the opportunity with both hands".

"The result for Wrightbus has been this excellent new order, and for First (Group) a fuel savings dividend from a fleet of brilliant new buses," he said.

Welcoming the announcement, Enterprise Trade and Investment Minister Arlene Foster said: "This latest order from FirstGroup is yet another vote of confidence in Wrightbus, which has once again proven it is a world leader when it comes to innovation.

'Boris bus'

"Today's announcement underlines the value of the continuing partnership between FirstGroup and Wrightbus. Not only has it secured jobs, it has provided a significant shop window for the Ballymena firm's innovative StreetLite concept and the ground-breaking Micro Hybrid technology behind it."

Wrightbus employs more than 1,000 people and is one of Northern Ireland's largest locally owned manufacturing firms.

In 2012 it reported a near trebling of pre-tax profits, making £3.85m on turnover of £157m.

It is best known for making the so-called 'Boris bus' a replacement for the famous London Routemaster.

It has been contracted to build 608 of the double-decker vehicles for London Transport.

Last year, Wrightbus announced a partnership with Daimler Bus to build vehicles in India.

The production centre in Chennai will make vehicles for the Indian market.

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