Posted on Thursday 26 August 2010 by Ulster Business

The Ballymena-based Wright Group manufactures buses for clients around the world. Managing director Mark Nodder says the company is now being rewarded for its focus on innovation after riding out a tough market in 2009

Ballymena’s Wright Group has enjoyed a resilient first half of 2010, securing jobs in the face of adverse economic conditions, while at the same time deepening its reach into target markets at home and abroad. In recent months the company, which employs over 1,000 people at its Galgorm headquarters, unveiled its new midibus model – the Wrightbus StreetLite – which was the result of a major investment in its technology and innovation capabilities. Targeting the small bus market, the company believes its latest high-tech model will improve its fortunes as it continues to seek out new export opportunities. The Wright Group has already agreed to supply Mistral Group (UK) plc with 60 of the new StreetLite buses in a contract worth £6m, and also won a £1.4m order to deliver 12 vehicles to Isle of Man Transport. The StreetLite is the latest product to be launched as part of the Co Antrim firm’s £7m R&D investment, supported by Invest NI with part funding from the European Regional Development Fund. The latest contract wins indicate that the investment is starting to paying off, particularly after a challenging 2009. Mark Nodder, Group Managing Director said: “The downturn had a significant impact on our business with orders from a number of key markets either put on hold or cancelled, particularly in the first six months of 2009. Business had been slow to recover and while we had no choice but to implement a number of cost cutting measures, we recognised the importance of keeping your team together and preparing for the upturn. “The assistance and support received from Invest NI have been invaluable in accelerating our plans for new product developments and training and the launch of our StreetLite product marks an important milestone for us. “Building on our recent successes in Hong Kong, Singapore and London, this new addition will add another dimension to our product offering and, as has already been proven with the Mistral Group order, it will support the creation of future export sales.” A family-owned firm, the company is proud of its Northern Ireland roots and has over the past 64 years risen to become an international leader in the development of hybrid technology, supplying hybrid buses to London and Las Vegas. Last year, Wrightbus secured significant new deals to build and supply vehicles and parts to Hong Kong and Singapore. Working in partnership with Volvo, the company will design and develop new bodywork kits specifically for the Singapore market. The deal came alongside orders for 290 buses from Kowloon Motor Bus Company in Hong Kong, again in partnership with Volvo. Towards the end of 2009, there was more good news, with the company securing a deal to make the eco-friendly replacement for the iconic London Routemaster double decker. The bus, which will incorporate the famous open platform at the back and will see a return of the traditional hop-on-hop-off service, provides 40% better fuel consumption than conventional diesel buses, and 15% better than the current hybrid buses. As well as international business the company remains focused on its home market. In March this year, it signed a deal with Translink and supplier Scania for 48 new ‘Solar Rural’ vehicles. Funded by the Department for Regional Development, this new contract announcement followed the recent completed delivery of 61 high capacity Ulsterbus vehicles also built by Wrightbus and supplied by Volvo.

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