Belfast Telegraph

Chinese engineering giant Weichai 'in talks to buy Wrightbus for £50m'

Visit: Boris Johnson at firm in 2011
Visit: Boris Johnson at firm in 2011
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

A major Chinese engineering company is in talks to buy struggling Ballymena manufacturer Wrightbus for around £50m, it has emerged.

Weichai, part of Shandong Heavy Industry, is said to be in discussions at Wrights' headquarters in the Co Antrim town.

The Northern Ireland company appointed business advisers Deloitte last month to help it find investors as it was facing mounting cashflow challenges.

Wrightbus and Deloitte refused to comment on Weichai's involvement, which was first reported in the Daily Telegraph.

While an announcement had been expected this week of investment into Wrightbus, it's now understood to be some weeks away.

A spokeswoman for Wrightbus said: "Wrightbus has not accepted an offer from any party and nor has it gone into any period of exclusivity with any company.

"Discussions with a number of potential investors remain ongoing."

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Earlier this week Wrightbus denied that another Chinese business BYD was in the running, and said that business had not made an offer.

According to a source quoted in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Weichai is the only bidder to make an offer which would see the entire operation preserved.

The business was founded in 1946 - the same year as Wrightbus - and it now has 80,000 employees.

It has annual revenues of 230bn RMB [China's currency] and has train, logistics, automotive, construction machinery, luxury yachts, and finance and after-services segments.

The Daily Telegraph reported at the weekend that BYD was interested in rescuing the company, which employs 1,400 people and is one of Northern Ireland's best-known manufacturers.

If a deal does go ahead with a Chinese company, it will be the third major manufacturer in Northern Ireland to welcome Chinese investment. SDC Trailers in Toomebridge and Thompson Aero in Craigavon are both now owned by Chinese firms.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of industry group Manufacturing NI, welcomed the prospect of a deal involving Wrightbus.

"It's really positive that there's strong interest in providing investment into the company.

"Wrightbus is a strategically important part of our manufacturing sector and critically important to our economy, not just in Northern Ireland but in that part of Co Antrim, which has seen the loss of big companies like JTI Gallaher's and Michelin.

"Speculation is that investors from China are interested - and experience of investors from China to date coming into Northern Ireland has been positive, due to the experience of SDC Trailers and Thompson Aero.

"Wrightbus make a great product that's enjoyed across the world with a very strong local supply chain which depend upon that company being successful, so we would hope there would be a speedy outcome for the sake of those suppliers."

Last week it emerged that members of the Wright family have put two former company premises - its Metallix and composite buildings - at Galgorm on the market through estate agents OKT. The buildings had been let to Wrightbus but are no longer occupied.

Belfast Telegraph