FirstGroup orders 425 new vehicles

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Provinces benefit as investment and vehicle numbers remain broadly the same as before the sale of London operations

FirstGroup has ordered 425 new vehicles worth £70m for delivery in the 2014/15 financial year. First said the order, which includes six electric vehicles, represents the biggest ever investment in new buses in the UK, for services outside London, and brings the company’s total investment in 2,000 new vehicles to around £310m over four years.

The lion’s share – 301 – has been awarded to Wrightbus – which includes 274 of its ‘StreetLite Micro Hybrid’ buses. The rest are standard StreetLites. First and Wrightbus have worked in partnership throughout 2013 to test, trial and develop the Micro Hybrids. Fuelled by diesel, the latter works recovering braking energy, but rather than use it to directly benefit propulsion as in full hybrid systems, this energy is kept in storage systems already on board and is used to power pneumatics, hydraulics and electrical items. These components would otherwise require power from the engine and, by using the energy harvested from the braking system, reduces overall fuel consumption by around 10% – it is claimed. FirstGroup will be the first company to operate these new buses.

Explaining the background to the Wrightbus order, Giles Fearnley, Managing Director of First UK Bus said: “In 2013 we laid down the gauntlet to bus manufacturers to work with us to minimise fuel consumption. Wrightbus embraced that challenge and together we’ve developed its StreetLite Micro Hybrid product. I am immensely proud of our collective achievements and we’re very much looking forward to being the first operator to take delivery of these revolutionary new vehicles.”

Group Managing Director of Wrights Group, Mark Nodder, said: “With the encouragement and support of First’s engineering team we brainstormed and trialled a host of innovative ideas before settling on the system now embodied in the StreetLite Micro Hybrid.

“The result for Wrightbus has been this excellent new order, and for First a fuel savings dividend from a fleet of brilliant new buses.”

Turning to the remainder of the order, ADL is to supply 60 Enviro400s and 37 Enviro200s, while Volvo will deliver half a dozen Plaxton coaches. Optare will manufacture 21, including 15 Solos and six electric Versas. Optare also announced that it is “In continuing discussion with FirstGroup regarding an order for a further 15 buses although there can be no guarantee that these discussions will result in a purchase order.”

Speaking to CBW on Thursday, Giles said: “We’re continuing our investment at the same level broadly as when we had our London business. Significantly, prior to 10 months ago, 45% of our investment had gone into London over the previous four to five years – yet London made up only 14% of our UK Bus business. Therefore, our provincial business fleets had been fed significantly by cascades.

“We’re getting a double win now. We’re making a real impact on fleets – both in terms of new vehicles and the refurbishment of current fleets. Some businesses are getting new buses for the first time in a very long time.” Confirming the electric vehicles “are going to York,” a First spokesman said he was unable to provide a breakdown of the allocation. He added: “First operates in 40 of the UK’s largest towns and cities and the majority of our operations will take delivery of new buses in the next financial year. Final decisions will be reached shortly as to exactly how many vehicles each of our businesses will receive.”