Wrightbus has won a £7 million contract to supply vehicles to Kowloon Motor Bus Company (KMB) in Hong Kong, one of the world’s biggest bus operators. The order is the first secured by the Ballymena-based bus builder from Hong Kong.

The KMB contract for 50 new generation double-deck buses was announced by Tracy Meharg, Invest Northern Ireland’s Managing Director of Innovation and Capability Development Services, and Patrick Hurst, Vice President of Wrightbus Ltd.

The new bus will be the first of its type in Hong Kong featuring an innovative design with enhanced safety features, full air conditioning, the latest passenger information system and aircraft style interiors, allowing almost 122 passengers to enjoy unparalleled levels of comfort. The buses will begin joining KMB’s existing fleet on almost 4,500 vehicles from this July.

KMB currently serves 400 routes in Kowloon, New Territories and into mainland China and carries over three million passengers every day.

Welcoming the contract, Ms Meharg said: “This is an important breakthrough for Wrightbus in a marketplace with enormous potential. It is the result of the company’s extensive investment in R&D that has included the Invest NI Compete programme in the development of new technology for double-deck buses and in marketing activities provided by our Trade division.

“The recent decision to establish a Centre of Excellence in automotive design technology under the EU-Department of Employment and Learning and Invest NI programme will ensure that Wrightbus maintains its position as an innovator in bus design and manufacture, particularly in electric and hybrid technology vehicles.

“This investment strategy, supported by the company’s Invest NI client team approach, has enabled Wrightbus to offer customers enhanced services and achieve success in one of the most competitive of international markets,” she added.

Mr Hurst said: “The KMB contract is a tremendous boost for our export drive which has also recently produced a £6.5 million repeat order of 102 single deck buses from Arriva-Nederlands. We’ve been working for over four years with KMB on the development of a bus that meets their objectives in terms of operating efficiency, passenger comfort and low emissions of carbon and nitrogen.

“Over the past five years, we’ve grown our exports to 25 per cent of turnover, almost doubled the output of vehicles per week and increased employment by over 60 per cent to 750. Upwards of 300 people are also employed in local companies supplying us with a range of components including fasteners, metal work, wood, glass reinforced fibre and bonding.

“KMB was also attracted by the commitment to innovation in the use of advanced aluminium structural extrusion with fully bolted construction. This technique enhances durability and ensures a longer service life. Other innovative features include a low floor ramp for disabled passengers; an ergonomic cabin for the driver that includes a wider windscreen that reduces reflection at night; and improved seating; and an enhanced passenger information system.

“The new Wrightbus tri-axle double-decker has set the standard for vehicle design in Hong Kong,” he added.