A major Chinese engineering company is now in talks to buy struggling Ballymena manufacturer Wrightbus for around £50m, according to reports.
Weichai – part of Shandong Heavy Industry – is said to be in discussions at Wrights' headquarters in the Co Antrim town. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, Weichai would take around eight weeks to evaluate the business.
Earlier this week Wrightbus denied that another Chinese business BYD was in the running for a takeover, and said it had not made an offer.
According to a source quoted in the Daily Telegraph, Weichai is the only bidder to make an offer which would see the entire operation preserved.
But it's understood Weichai would wish to use its own parts to build buses in Ballymena – which would cut out the suppliers who currently sell parts to Wrightbus.
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. But a spokeswoman for Wrightbus said it was not in the running.
Wrightbus’ most high-profile deal of recent years was a contract to supply 1,000 London buses, a deal championed by then mayor Boris Johnson. Wrightbus announced last month that it had hired business advisers Deloitte to help find an investor as it battles increased pressures, including a decline in the UK bus market.
Last October, owner Wrights Group declared an 86% collapse in its 2017 pre-tax profits from £10.7m to just £1.5m after a £37m slump in its turnover.
The Wrights Group is not due to make its 2018 finances public for another two months.
Last week members of the Wright family put two disused factories at its former site in Galgorm near Ballymena on the market for a combined £1.9m. The factories had been leased to the company, which has since largely relocated to the former JTI Gallaher’s site.