Last week’s visit to Northern Ireland to see all of the latest from Wrightbus was a marked contrast to my first, over 25 years ago, when the company was still in its old premises before the move of the coachbuilding plant to the Galgorm Industrial Estate. On that occasion, the reason for the visit was to witness the latest developments on the Contour aluminium coach body. It was fascinating to me how varied the other work being undertaken at the time was. It included the production of small coachbuilt minibuses, minibus conversions, high floor service buses and a variety of different commercial vehicle projects, among them fire engines.
The idea of the company building London’s New Bus on a chassis it designed in house, exporting in large numbers to Singapore or Hong Kong or supplying articulated hybrids to Las Vegas would have seemed unthinkable at the time as they hadn’t even built a double decker and could give you lots of reasons why they never would.
It wasn’t long afterwards that the company started to become a mainstream supplier to UK operators and its innovation and the quality of its products soon earned it a growing following, further enhanced by its enthusiastic adoption of the low floor concept.
That same willingness to keep going forward, developing new ideas and taking on additional markets is still at the fore in what is now a very different company where the talk on my latest trip was of Euro6, Flybrids, Micro Hybrids, Induction Power Transfer and other variations on their body and complete vehicle range for markets the world over.
At the time of that first visit there were plenty of other UK manufacturers you’d have pointed to before Wrights as long term survivors, which just goes to show that it isn’t always the big fish that are the best business stayers. Don’t ask me who the big players will be in 25 years time – some of the Chinese manufacturers that are among the world’s biggest bus builders today hadn’t even begun their operations when I made that first trip to Ballymena.