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Order boost for bus firm

A Northern Ireland bus company has said new business announced yesterday comes as "a light amid the gloom" of the downturn - but warned it had not yet put the recession behind it.

Ballymena company Wright Group unveiled a £7.4m double contract win for a new design of bus, which will see it supply Mistral Group (UK) plc with 60 of its new StreetLite buses, developed with support from Invest Northern Ireland, in a contract worth £6m.

The firm has also won an order worth £1.4m to deliver 12 StreetLite buses to Isle of Man Transport. Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster officially unveiled the new StreetLite bus in Ballymena yesterday.

Wright Group managing director Mark Nodder described the new deal as "a light amid the gloom and despondency" of the downturn.

"The new bus design will generate additional sales in markets we haven't been in before," he said. "It gives scope for winning new work from customers we haven't had before.

"But we definitely aren't out of the woods. The transport sector and the public transport sector is still very flat. Customers are still struggling in their own business and there seems to be very little cash. It's a relatively easy decision to say, 'let's not buy any new buses this year'."

He said the business had set out to compensate for the downturn in home markets by developing products for overseas markets, such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Mr Nodder said he wanted to avoid further job losses after 100 jobs were cut in 2008. "We're determined in so far as we possibly can to preserve employment in Wrightbus and in the local area.

"My intention is to die in a ditch before we cut any more jobs."

But he added: "I don't think the UK market in buses is likely to pick up in the next six to nine months. We will be into 2011 before we see any real recovery in the transport market. For that reason, having new products for new markets is absolutely crucial."

The StreetLite bus is the latest product to be launched as part of Wright Group's £7m research and development investment, which is supported by Invest NI.

Launching the bus, the minister said: "As one of Northern Ireland's most innovative manufacturing firms, the Wright Group recognises the value to be gained by continued investment in product development. This ethos has been of particular importance over the past 12-18 months as the downturn impacted on global sales.

"Clearly, The Wright Group's investments in innovation are now bearing fruit."