Belfast Telegraph

Potential buyer confirms talks with Wrightbus, as Ballymena firm faces collapse

Ballymena-based bus manufacturer Wrightbus is in takeover talks
Ballymena-based bus manufacturer Wrightbus is in takeover talks

Northern Ireland businessman Darren Donnelly has confirmed he is in talks with Ballymena-based bus manufacturer Wrightbus, regarding the potential purchase of the company.

The confirmation comes following press speculation that, without a rescue deal being secured by next week, the company could be forced to call in administrators.

It is reported that Wrightbus need a cash injection of around £30m to stay in business, with its parent company, Wrights Group, hiring professional services firm Deloitte in July to advise on talks with potential investors.

Wrights Group employs around 1,400 people.

Now it has emerged Darren Donnelly, who founded Toomebridge-based articulated trailer manufacturer Retlan Group along with his father, is in discussions regarding purchasing Wrightbus.

Retlan Group was bought over by Chinese firm CIMC Vehicles in 2016.

On Friday, it was reported that talks between Mr Donnelly and the Ballymena company's advisors have gathered pace in recent days amid fading hopes of a £50m takeover by Weichai, a subsidiary of Chinese firm Shandong Heavy Industry.

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In a statement released on Saturday, a spokesperson for Mr Donnelly confirmed talks with Wrightbus are ongoing.

“In recent weeks, following press leaks about the potential issues in Wrightbus, Mr Donnelly’s advisors had begun initial due diligence on the Company," they said.

"Over the course of recent weeks, Mr Donnelly has been one of a number of interested parties in dialogue with Wrightbus and their advisors Deloitte regarding the purchase of the Wrightbus manufacturing business.

Boris Johnson as mayor of London on a Wrightbus
Boris Johnson as mayor of London on a Wrightbus

“Discussions in this process are ongoing with Mr Donnelly and his advisors. We have no further comment to make at this time.”

When news of Wrightbus's financial difficulties broke earlier this year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would do "everything we can to ensure the future of that great UK company".

Wrightbus built the famous London Routemaster bus - dubbed the "Boris bus" - and blamed a lack of orders for the downturn.

The most recent accounts for Wrights Group show a pre-tax profit of around £1.5m in 2017, a drop from £10.7m the previous year.

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