Wrightbus signs landmark deal with Australia’s leading bus body manufacturer

The Ballymena firm has partnered with Volgren which is set to open up a significant export market

By Claire Cartmill
Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 12:01 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 1:37 pm

Leading UK bus manufacturer Wrightbus has signed a landmark deal with Australia’s number one bus body builder that could open up a significant export market.

Wrightbus has partnered with Volgren to provide its groundbreaking hydrogen fuel cell powertrain technology for the manufacture of two zero-emission hydrogen single deck buses which will be the first European-Australian hydrogen combination in the country.

And Wrightbus leaders hope the first two buses will be the start of many as Australia looks to replace tens of thousands of buses with zero-emission vehicles over the next decade to hit its net zero commitments.

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Volgren Wrightbus bus

The deal has been praised by the UK Government’s Department for International Trade, which provided assistance to Wrightbus as it looked to break into the Australian market.

The vehicles, which will be powered by Wrightbus NexGen hydrogen fuel cell powertrains, will be trialled in Australia, where it is hoped they will form part of the country’s push towards the introduction of hydrogen power.

The innovative hydrogen powertrains - which will be built in the Wrightbus Ballymena factory - will use the same technology developed by Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus to launch its world-first zero-emission StreetDeck Hydroliner double deck and GB Kite Hydroliner single deck buses.

Since first entering passenger service in 2020, StreetDeck Hydroliners have clocked up a million miles, preventing 1,700 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere on those bus journeys. No harmful emissions are emitted from the vehicles, with water vapour being the only emission.

Head of Wrightbus International Nathan Hodge, Volgren COO Yuri Tessari, Volgren CEO Thiago Deiro, Ian Paisley Jr MP for North Antrim, Wrightbus CEO Buta Atwal, Department of International Trade's Deputy Director of Northern Ireland James Toolan

The Wrightbus-Volgren buses are expected to be ready for trial in the first few months of 2023.

Wrightbus CEO Buta Atwal, said: “As the UK’s leading bus manufacturer with world-leading products, we’re incredibly proud to be partnering with Australia’s number one bus body builder in Volgren. Like us, Volgren is always on the cutting edge of new and emerging technology to drive the industry forwards. There are some fantastic parallels between the two companies and we’re looking forward to a long and successful working relationship.

“This is the first time we’ve exported our powertrain technology to a bus body manufacturer, the first time we’ve entered the Australian market as a business, and the hydrogen buses will be the first of their kind to be built in Australia so this is a significant deal for everyone involved.

“We know from our extensive experience the significant part hydrogen can play in the decarbonisation of public transport and we believe the scope for uptake across the Australian market is huge as the country makes the vital switch to zero-emission vehicles. We’re excited to be in from the start.”

Volgren CEO Thiago Deiro and Wrightbus CEO Buta Atwal

Thiago Deiro, Volgren’s chief executive officer, explained: “We believe that Hydrogen has an important place in Australia and Wrightbus is one of the most important global players in hydrogen buses. We are confident the partnership will help speed up the deployment of hydrogen buses in Australia.

“Wrightbus builds bodies for their products in the UK and Europe. In fact, they use similar body technology to Volgren, namely bolted extruded aluminium profiles. This shared expertise and understanding is one of the many aspects of the partnership that we think will make it a success.”

Thiago said the partnership was not just good news for sustainability, and the nation’s move towards green transport, but also for the economy.

He continued: “By collaborating with Wrightbus we’re securing local jobs in Australia’s zero-emission future and creating knowledge and experience in hybrid fuel cell technology.

“Volgren has always been at the vanguard of adopting new technologies. We’ve proven that with the development of our Battery Electric Buses and now we have the opportunity to do the same with our first hydrogen fuel cell prototype.”

Buta Atwal said the partnership, coupled with the company’s expansion plans in Europe being led by its recently-appointed European chief commercial officer, would ensure the Wrightbus name would be known on the global stage, securing the UK’s reputation as a leader in zero-emission hydrogen technology.

The deal was welcomed by the UK government, which has today introduced a bill to help bring into force the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement, its first independently negotiated Agreement in more than 50 years.

Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan, added: “Northern Ireland is home to one of the UK’s most dynamic manufacturing sectors, and I’m proud of our work helping companies like Wrightbus get export wins like this. They are paving the way for others to make in the UK and sell to the world.

“Our historic trade agreement with Australia is tailored to the UK’s strengths, and delivers for businesses, families, and consumers in Northern Ireland. By slashing tariffs and cutting red tape we are ensuring brilliant products and services reach global markets - creating jobs, boosting wages right and growing our economy.”

Rescued from administration by green entrepreneur Jo Bamford in October 2019, Wrightbus has since gone from strength to strength, taking staff numbers from 56 to more than 900 and doubling output at its Ballymena-based HQ. And with output doubling this year and zero-emission vehicles making up 70% of production this year, it is truly leading the way in green transport.