Hopes remain that a purchaser may be found to save Wrights Group after two competing bidders – Chinese manufacturing company Wechai and an organisation led by JCB heir Jo Bamford – pulled out on Friday last week (20 September).
The withdrawals came 24 hours after the Ballymena company had told its employees that there was some “hopefully good news” in the pipeline, and that it was about to complete a sale to one of an unspecified number of “credible bidders”.
It is understood that if Wrights Group is unable to finalise a deal with a buyer or an investor it will be left with no alternative than to enter administration, putting 1,400 jobs at risk.
Wechai already has a very minor involvement in the UK bus market. It holds a share in the Chinese company subcontracted by Australian firm BCI to assemble the Ensign Enterprise and Ensign Excellence double-deckers that have sold here in small numbers.
Mr Bamford is a Director of Ryse Hydrogen. Ryse Hydrogen is part of the H2 Bus consortium, which also counts Wrightbus as a member.
H2 Bus is committed to deploying 1,000 hydrogen fuel cell buses and their infrastructure in European cities “at commercially competitive rates”, it says. Ryse and Wrightbus are involved in the contract to place 20 hydrogen-powered double-deckers into service in London in 2020.
In an interview last week with The Guardian, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley Jr said that the cash pressure on Wrights Group was “massive”. The company later responded by saying that it was continuing to “work hard to ensure the long-term future of the company and its workforce.”
Although Wrightbus had seen a reduction in market share in the UK, it has been pushing hard to grow its export business. It has demonstrated its StreetDeck double-decker in Chile and selling a number to Mexico. It has also outlined plans to take the StreetLite to South American markets.
Unfortunately Wrightbus has now gone into administration. Stay tuned for an update from routeone.