Orders for its buses just keep on arriving – and Co Antrim bus manufacturer Wrightbus has now confirmed its latest coup, an order of £40m-plus for hundreds of environment-friendly vehicles made in its Ballymena factory.
UK transport giant FirstGroup said it had picked Wrightbus as a manufacturer after rigorous fuel consumption tests last year proved the green credentials of the Northern Ireland-made StreetLite buses.
Most of the 301 vehicles will be made with so-called Micro-Hybrid technology exclusive to Wrightbus, which operates by redistributing energy from the braking system to parts otherwise dependent on engine power.
The energy efficiency cuts fuel consumption by up to 10%, saving money over the typical 15-year lifespan of a bus.
The contract is the bulk of £70m investment in 425 buses by FirstGroup and caps a number of major successes for Wrightbus, in particular last year's £200m contract to build the London Routemaster bus.
Wrightbus group managing director Mark Nodder said: "This is further great news for Wrightbus and the Northern Ireland economy.
"Hot on the heels of last year's order to build 600 innovative double-deck buses for Transport For London, this order for FirstGroup will help secure existing jobs right across our business.
"It is a huge endorsement for our innovative StreetLite single-deck bus concept and the exciting Micro Hybrid technology that we have developed in conjunction with First."
Managing director of UK Bus at FirstGroup, Giles Fearnely, said it had "laid down the gauntlet" to bus companies to work with them to cut fuel consumption.
"Wrightbus embraced that challenge and together we've developed its StreetLite Micro Hybrid product. I am immensely proud of our collective achievements and we're very much looking forward to being the first operator to take delivery of these revolutionary new vehicles."
The chassis for the new buses will be built at Wright Group subsidiary EN-Drive in Antrim.
The bodywork will be assembled in Ballymena. Vehicle deliveries are due to start during the next few months, with all buses expected to be in full operational service by early 2015.
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.
"This 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 groundbreaking Micro Hybrid technology behind it."
Wrightbus' latest deal comes after its wirelessly-charged electric buses took to the roads of Milton Keynes in England.
The performance of the eight buses manufactured by the Ballymena firm is being assessed on a 15-mile route to demonstrate that they make sense economically, as well as being better for the environment.