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Wrightbus' cheeky midi

Wrightbus' cheeky midi Wrightbus' cheeky midi
Wrightbus is now firmly committed to its role as a complete vehicle builder. It has of course already unveiled complete buses but the launch of the new Street-Lite midibus is confirmation of its future as an integral builder. Of course the Ballymena-based manufacturer is still working with its main chassis partner Volvo, but the new StreetLite and the forthcoming New Bus for London are surely the signposts for where it is heading.

The StreetLite, described by managing director Mark Nodder as the “cheeky rascal” of Wrightbus' range, is certainly an impressive return to the midibus sector. Available in four lengths from 8.8m to 10.8m, the StreetLite uses styling ideas from StreetCar and has the familiar Wrightbus windscreen, and a decidedly ‘big bus feel’ to the interior.

The vehicle has two main variants - door-forward in the 8.8m and 9.5m versions, and wheel-forward in the 10.2m and 10.8m. All models are 2.44m wide. The overall capacity is 70-71 with 33 seats in the 8.8m, 37 in the 9.5m and 10.2m, and 41 in the 10.8m. Two-door London models, the first of which should appear later this year, will seat 31 in 10.2m and 35 in 10.5m.

The StreetLite has been launched with an initial order for 60 vehicles from Mistral which will handle retail sales across the UK, outside Wrightbus’ 12 main customers among the groups and larger independents. The Mistral order has now been followed by a £1.4million order for 12 buses from Isle of Man Transport; six at 9.5m and six at 10.8m for delivery between December 2010 and March 2011.

The driveline comprises a Cummins iSBe Euro5/EEV engine with four cylinder as standard at 160 or 185bhp, and an option of six cylinder at 225 or 250bhp. Voith’s new DIWA.3e gearbox is fitted as standard with an option of DIWA.5. The Voith gearbox features an integral retarder with Sensotop as an option.

In common with the Street-Lite’s main competitor, Optare’s Solo, the driveline is located on a removable skid for ease of repair and also enabling engine retrofit from hybrid to diesel, or even the reverse.
The interior has a bright and open feel with a wide entrance door and glazed rear panel. The seats in the initial vehicles are Lazzerini and the vehicle has been designed to handle a fully seat-belted option.
The payload to unladen weight ratio is 1:1.38 and there are a number of rear differential ratio options to maximise efficiency and fuel economy.

A two-year “bumper-to-bumper” warranty is provided by Wrightbus, delivered through its CustomCare operation which is increasing its mobile engineer numbers to support the new vehicle. CustomCare’s Geoff Potter reports that the organisation is already geared up for complete vehicle support and its specialists are increasingly chassis-trained technicians. “No product is truly competitive without the right aftermarket support,” says Potter.

The first two pre-production vehicles are now going through final testing and homologation with production scheduled to start shortly in readiness for the delivery of the first Mistral vehicles in September.

The  development of the vehicle was supported with public funds through the Invest Northern Ireland organisation which put £1.8million into the project including £616,000 from the European Regional Development Fund.

Northern Ireland enterprise minister Arlene Foster joined Mark Nodder for the launch of StreetLite. “The success of this project shows Northern Ireland companies can be world leaders,” said Foster.

Nodder acknowledges the importance of the support from the government and agencies in Northern Ireland, noting that Foster was the first to contact him offering assistance when the initial announcement was made about redundancies in February 2009. “Arlene Foster was in my office the very next morning,” said Nodder, “asking what she could do to help the company continue to invest".

Nodder describes the company’s response to the challenges that resulted from cancelled orders in early 2009 as indicative of Wrightbus’ strengths. “We believe that innovation in design and manufacturing is the way to meet the challenge.”

And of course the order position is no better now with bus volumes likely to remain depressed for some time. Wrightbus is hoping that the StreetLite will be a strong contender when confidence and orders return, and is planning to place seed vehicles in the main operation groups.

Mistral is of course looking for business right away and is hoping that its recently-launched asset finance operation, headed up by Rob Hallworth will give it an advantage. Mistral’s retail prices for the StreetLite start at £102,000 for the 8.8m version, £105,000 for the 9.5m and £115,000 for the 10.8m. Monthly rental costs range from £1,517 for the 8.8m to £1,625 for the 10.8m plus three months’ advance rental.

The hybrid option for StreetLite is planned for 2011 and product development director Damian McGarry says that the final hybrid solution is likely to closely follow the developments on the New Bus for London project. The hybrid option will add around 200mm to the length of the vehicle, as will the six cylinder Cummins diesel engine.

“StreetLite represents a step change compared to what has previously been available to operators of midi buses," said Nodder. "With the benefit of being able to take a completely 'ground up' design approach, we have made no compromises in achieving our objectives; namely to bring to market a high quality, value for money product which is best in class in terms of seating capacity, passenger and driver comfort, performance, operational efficiency, environmental qualities and whole life support.

“The project team has drawn deeply from the Wright Group’s design heritage, engineering and manufacturing experience in the StreetLite’s development.”


www.wrightbus.com
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