New look for Wrightbus
50% export target and promising fuel figures
In advance of its presence at Euro Bus Expo, Wrightbus last week held a press conference at the London Transport Museum to reveal more about the new generation StreetDeck double decker, as well as providing more information on other Wrightbus products and how the company is progressing. There were no actual vehicles present but senior Wrightbus representatives including Chairman and CEO, Mark Nodder; Chief Finance Officer, Mark Johnston; Wrightbus MD, John McLaughlin and newcomer to the fold Ian Downie, who has been appointed Wrightbus Sales & Customcare MD after close to 30 years with Volvo. The location was in recognition of Wrightbus support for TfL’s Year of the Bus, and the event was followed by a tour of the Museum including the ‘Goodbye Piccadilly’ display relating to the role of the bus in the First World War.
The presentation began with Mark Nodder revealing something about the financial position of the company as well as pointing out some of the highlights of the last few years, during which the business has completed the strategic transition from a bodybuilder to a complete bus manufacturer, designing and developing leading edge products. He pointed out that five different driveline technology options were being offered.
Output had increased from 1,020 complete buses and 165 kits in 2012, to 930 complete and 333 kits in 2013 and for 2014 the figure was 1115 complete and 335 kits. Turnover had increased from £157m in 2012, to £179m in 2013 and this year was £230m, much of that growth attributable to the higher component cost in complete vehicles. Complete integral buses represented 75-80% of sales in 2014 and chassis production at the EN-Drive plant in Antrim was running at 16-18 a week. Profits, at £3.9m in 2012 and £4.1m in 2013 (this year’s figure is not yet confirmed) are modest but this should be seen in the light of the £4-6m spent annually on development and immediately written off rather than amortised. These figures all represent 12 month periods to the end of September, though this year Wrights are extending their year end to the end of December to come in line with the rest of the industry. Mark said that despite the major changes the company had avoided incurring term debt. There was no core debt, which helped to ensure flexibility.
A telling figure is the number of employees, which stood at around 950 in 2009 when the downturn saw over 300 facing redundancy. Today, that has been turned around and having grown to 1,200 in 2012, is expected to reach 1,850 by the end of the year. The engineering department had grown by 50%, there were an extra 25 people within Customcare and the number of apprentices currently stood at 150.
Mark also revealed plans to redevelop the Ballymena site in order that better use can be made of it.
The aim was to generate sustainable growth through innovation and investment. To achieve this, the team was being strengthened with talent and the customer was being put at the centre of everything because the company, which will celebrate 70 years of existence in 2016, intends to be in business in the long term.
Ian Downie explained that the Wrightbus philosophy was to focus on offering a complete range of fuel efficient vehicles to meet all our operators’ needs. He outlined the current range which includes: the 8.8m and 9.5m Wheel Forward Streetlite, the 10.2m and 10.8m Door Forward Streetlite and the 11.5m Streetlite Max which are offered with (160/180/210hp) Cummins ISB4.5L or Daimler OM934 (175/208hp) engines; the Eclipse 3 single deck on the Volvo B8RLE chassis; the StreetDeck double deck with Daimler OM934 5.1-litre 231hp engine; the Gemini 3 double deck on the Volvo B5LH and B5TL; and the New Routemaster double deck, as the New Bus for London is now known.
There are developments on the transmission front as, in addition to the Voith DIWA.6 four-speed box that was standard across the Streetlite and StreetDeck ranges, there is to be a new Daimler G90AMT six-speed automatic option across the range with the ZF Ecolife six-speed additionally available in the StreetDeck. The G90AMT will be available from the third quarter of 2015. Another new option for the Streetlite will be a mechanical KERS hybrid, with Arriva set to take the first one in June/July 2015.
Much was made of the fact that every Streetlite and StreetDeck equipped with the MicroHybrid package qualifies for LCEB certification which entitles it to an additional 6p per litre fuel rebate in the UK and 14p in Scotland. At 50,000 miles a year, this equates to £72,000 or in Scotland £168,000 over a 15 year life. This is in addition to the fuel savings that
Wrights say the buses will achieve compared with their competitors, estimated to be between £4-9,000 annually. Wrightbus claim the StreetDeck is the first double deck diesel MicroHybrid to qualify. Furthermore, all Streetlites meet the criteria of the Green Bus Fund. Qualification for LCEB is a calculation based on weight and seating capacity, so it is important to ensure that this is met when specifying and certifying. It may be that a London specification two door StreetDeck would not qualify.
Updating on progress with the New Routemaster, Ian said that there were now 284 of the 600 so far ordered in service, with the delivery of 12 to Go-Ahead for use on the 453. After 262 Euro5s, production is now entirely of Euro6 versions, six Euro6 trial vehicles having been in operation since June. A proposed order for a further 200 New Routemasters is set to go before the TfL board.
Euro Bus Expo will see the unveiling of a new look for the Wrightbus family and we were shown images of how the new styling will look on an integral StreetDeck and the body on chassis Gemini 3. Internally nicknamed ‘Stealth’ because part of the inspiration came from stealth aircraft, the angular look is radically different to the previous ‘Nokia’ one. A one piece wrap round screen and protected windscreen wipers feature and on the offside there is the option of a glazed staircase panel.
The StreetDeck has been completely redesigned for Euro6 with the weight reduced by 1,000kg to below 11 tonnes. It is 10,469mm long, 2,520mm wide and 4,395mm high.
Built in four modules, the two axle modules are largely common with the New Routemaster. The centre floor section between the wheelarches is a new lighter weight unit while the rear driveline module is the same as the current Euro6 double decker. Along with the Euro6 switch from Cummins to Daimler power, the longitudinal driveline eliminates the previous angle drive which alone is said to generate a fuel saving of between 2-4%. As on the Streetlite, the driveline is mounted on a removable cassette. Fitting separate coolant and charge air radiators with electrically powered cooling fans has reduced the auxiliary power requirement.
Wrightbus have paid attention to serviceability, reducing the number of fixings and improving access to components throughout the bus. The chassis electrical centre for the hybrid has been relocated to a cleaner location on the upper deck. Saloon airflow has been increased on both decks.
A pre-production new look single door StreetDeck will appear at the NEC in the colours of Arriva alongside a Gemini 3 bodied Volvo which also has the latest styling. A TfL specification dual door model will be available later this year.
The first order for the StreetDeck has already been placed by the Brighton & Hove Bus & Coach Company, a Go Ahead Group subsidiary. It calls for 24 single door 10.5m examples which will enter service between February and April 2015. They will seat 81 passengers and have a total capacity including standees of over 90. Brighton has opted for the Voith D854.6 four-speed automatic transmission to go with the Mercedes-Benz OM934 5.1-litre engine.
Go Ahead Group Engineering Director, Martin Harris, commented; ‘We had the opportunity to see the vehicle in various stages of its development and have been particularly impressed by the design approach and fuel-efficient combination of the new technologies and lightweight materials used in the new StreetDeck. With our experience of operating Wrightbus products over many years, we had no hesitation in placing an initial order for the new double deck ahead of its official launch.’
Customers announced for Euro6 Gemini 3s include: 73 Volvo B5HLs for Metroline, 25 B5TLs for Lothian, 42 B5TLs for Translink, 50 B5TLs for Dublin Bus and 25 similar buses for Bus Eireann.
To say that Wrightbus are pleased with the fuel economy their vehicles are displaying at Euro6 would be an understatement; they are positively cock-a-hoop. Having feared that there could be an increase in consumption the reality has turned out very positively and they now claim to offer the best fuel economy in all sectors in which they are engaged. To illustrate how efficient they are against a recognised independent standard, John McLaughlin provided details on the performance of three vehicles entered in the First Group FMFET (First Millbrook Fuel Economy Trials) benchmark testing programme conducted at Millbrook in each of the past three years. Although First has devised a different route each year, and now uses one based on its routes throughout the UK (and therefore outside London) Wrights have retested against previous routes to obtain true comparatives between Euro5 and Euro6 models.
The first of three vehicles mentioned was the 10.8m Streetlite which was tested as a diesel in 2012, with the initial MicroHybrid package following in 2013 with electrical and pneumatic opportunity charging and an optimised electric radiator fan and electric CAC fan. In its latest guise this year, with the MicroHybrid 2 system, additionally incorporating improved opportunity charging and electric power steering, it has taken the 7% fuel saving initially achieved in 2013 up to 11%, achieving 10.87mpg compared with the 10.07mpg of the nearest competitor.
The Streetlite Max returned 10.36mpg with the Voith DIWA6 transmission and with the Daimler G90 AMT it managed 10.76mpg. No other vehicle was entered to challenge it.
The 10.469m StreetDeck equipped with the Daimler engine and Voith transmission together with the MicroHybrid 2 package and electric power steering returned 9.05mpg compared with the 7.87mpg of its nearest competitor. Compared with the base 2012 reading this represents a 32.7% improvement. Incidentally, Wrightbus claim that engine oil and AdBlue consumption are also reduced by 50%.
We were told that the StreetDeck used had a ULW of 10,648kg and a capacity of 107, while the 10.8m Streetlite DF weighed 8,369kg and had a capacity of 73 passengers.
With an estimated 13,500 Wright built vehicles currently in service, providing support for them is a major undertaking and one that will become increasingly demanding as the number and complexity of vehicles grows. Of these, 12,100 are in the UK and Ireland and of these 1,140 are integrals.
Once seen as a benchmark for customer service, Customcare had fallen back over the years but this has been addressed and major investment made. It is significant that responsibility for Customcare is also being vested in Ian Downie, along with the sales role, as the two are inextricably linked.
Ian explained that the strategy was to support the product at the customer’s premises, employing a flexible approach to meet customer demands. The number of Regional Service Managers has been increased from three to four with the creation of a new South West Area, and in each area the number of Mobile Service engineers has been increased substantially. By the year end, the number of such engineers will have risen from 22 to 38 this year.
A new centre in the former Go-Ahead depot in Lagoon Road, Orpington has been opened which will incorporate a new UK Training Centre, a fully equipped six-bay repair and refurbishment centre and a dedicated warehouse for new Routemaster parts. On top of this, the team at the central support office has been strengthened with seven additional staff and more parts stock is being held at regional hubs.
Mark Nodder made it clear that Wrights aim to be exporting at least 50% of production within five years, which will help the company to iron out the fluctuations within the home UK and Irish market. ‘That’s healthy’ he said, confirming that the current level was between 15-18%. This export business needed to be sustainable and investment was being made in the design and development necessary to support it. The product range would include CBU, CKD, PKD and technology partnerships.
In addition to the headquarters in Ballymena, there are now offices in Hong Kong, Singapore, Chennai and Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates.
Recent orders had included 415 for Singapore Bus Services and, in Hong Kong, 25 for KMB, 20 for New World First Bus and 31 for Citybus.
A particularly interesting and potentially significant alliance is with Daimler in India. Announced in March this year, though it had been ongoing for 18 months prior to this, the agreement will see Wrightbus supplying technology for front engined buses, though the new plant at Oragadam, scheduled to open in the third quarter of 2015, will also be producing rear engined buses.
Being purely a coachbuilder in the modern era is an extremely precarious position for a large concern and in successfully achieving the transition Wrightbus has done well. It is remarkable what Wrightbus has achieved in the past three years and the coming years will be no less challenging. I still haven’t seen the new StreetDeck so along with many of you I will be looking forward with great interest to seeing it in Birmingham next week.