Wrightbus moves beyond traditional coachbuilding

Transport News Briefs reports that in the first six months of 2015 Ballymena based bus builder Wrights Group has reached major new milestones. The company expects to achieve record turnover and levels of employment that are pushing its payroll towards 2,000.
Jack-Kernohan

The past five years have seen Wrights Group transform itself from a traditional coachbuilder to a major player in the manufacture of complete integral vehicles, according to Chairman and CEO Mark Nodder.

Three or four years ago, some 70 per cent of output was on third party chassis, whereas now it is the reverse, with 80-90% built on its own ‘EN-Drive’ chassis.

Wrightbus now has 800 StreetLites, 40 StreetDecks and 500-plus new Routemasters operating in the UK. It claims its work in building Euro-5 and Euro-6 vehicles has delivered huge gains in reduced particulate matter and NOx that comes with emissions compliance.

In terms of exports, the company’s strategy is to generate around 50 per cent of turnover from non-domestic sales within the next five years, up from the current figure of 10-20 pc. Wright Group has established a bus assembly plant with Daimler in Chennai, India and is also beginning to forge business in parts of the Middle East.
In 2020, the bus and coach market in India is expected to grow by 50 pc  from 40,000 to 60,000 units. If Daimler secures 10% of this market segment, said Nodder, it would mean a five- to six six-fold increase in production for Wrights Group.

Nodder said turnover totalled £297 million in 2014 over 15 months, with bus output of 1,377 units. Employment has continued to rise partly on the back of an increased order book, but also on the increased content of the vehicles it is now manufacturing. This success is reflected in its new manufacturing centre in Antrim, where more than 200 are employed.

The backbone of the company is its apprenticeship scheme, which has been running since its formation in 1946. Wrightbus has its own training centre, hiring between 50-70 NVQ assessed apprentices, many of whom today are in senior management roles in the company; an example being its Head of Wrightbus International, Damian McGarry.

Order books are full to the end of the year and bus output will be similar to 2014, with a total of 1,168 units and 350 bus kit sales for overseas markets. By the end of 2015 a further 100 employees will be added to the payroll. Proportionate R&D spend will rise slightly to around £7.5 million so even post Euro-6 R&D will continue to increase, much of which has been assigned to electric and hybrid bus and low emission technology.