Belfast Telegraph

Wrights turnover cut to £264.4m as city bus orders slow down

By Margaret Canning

Co Antrim bus giant Wrights Group has pointed to a slowdown in orders from some English cities as it reported a 4% fall in turnover to £264.4m for 2016.

The Ballymena firm, which has over 1,800 staff and is one of Northern Ireland's biggest manufacturers, also had a 9% fall in pre-tax profits to £10.7m.

In a strategic report, company chairman Mark Nodder said there had been a slowdown in demand for new buses in some English and Welsh cities, as there were to be changes to bus regulation.

However, orders for its famous London bus - as championed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in his old job as the city's mayor - were in line with passenger growth.

Mr Nodder said that in general terms, the group was performing well, despite economic uncertainty and exchange rate fluctuations.

"Our expanding customer base and comprehensive product range have ensured stability and modest growth."

International operations were also strong, with double-decker bus bodies supplied to Volvo for customers in Hong Kong and Singapore. It has opened an assembly facility in Malaysia, which is up and running, with the company "well placed to develop new opportunities in the Asia Pacific region".

The company also works with Daimler in India, where buses with bodywork by Wrightbus International are also produced.

However, the company stressed there was "global" competition for bus manufacturing and that the company was improving cost-competitiveness and production efficiency at all its manufacturing sites. "Looking forward, the group's vision is to shape the future of public transport systems throughout the world, and we aim to do this through excellence in quality, design and innovation."

Staff numbers had also increased by about 120 over the year to reach 1,861. The company, which is based at Fenaghy Road in Ballymena, had also launched the first hydrogen-powered double-decker bus during the year.

It declared dividends of £4m which were paid to parent company The Cornerstone Group. The firm also spent £6.5m on research and development, up from £6.1m the year before. The company said that "continued investment in research and development... position the group to take advantage of increasing demand for low and zero emission buses".

Last year, the company bought the Galgorm Road site of tobacco firm JTI Gallaher's after it closed.

Belfast Telegraph