Microbus put on the block by private equity owner

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The Independent Online

Microbus, a supplier of in-vehicle technology for the Metropolitan Police Service and black cabs, has been put up for sale by its private-equity owners for an estimated £30m.

RCapital this month appointed GP Bullhound, the investment bank, to run a potential sale of Microbus, which also provides its hardware and software to the coach operator National Express, and to Merseyside Police and other emergency services. RCapital and GP Bullhound declined to comment.

Industry sources said Microbus could be a target for technology companies, such as Siemens, Saab and Serco. They are likely to be attracted to the fact that police forces and other organisations in regions ranging from the Middle East to Australia have expressed an interest in using Microbus's technology.

The Microbus touch-screen computers allow the police, for example, to input and receive data to help them to respond more quickly and efficiently to incidents. Microbus also supplies vehicle-based police cameras which link the two applications together.

RCapital, which bought Microbus in 2006 for an undisclosed sum, is the latest private-equity firm to seek an exit from an investment made before the downturn. Office, the shoe chain owned by Sir Tom Hunter's West Coast Capital firm since 2003, appointed advisers over the summer to seek a potential £200m sale.

RCapital, which specialises in providing growth and turnaround funding, is arguably best-known for its investment in Little Chef, the roadside restaurant chain. The firm bought Little Chef out of administration in 2007 for £9m. Last year, RCapital hit the headlines when it brought in the celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal to revitalise Little Chef's menu and give the brand a boost.

The group this year launched a demountable tablet computer. This product is thought to be a world-first in terms of functioning inside or outside vehicles over the terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) network.

Tetra is a proprietary wireless network and it helps the police and emergency services to communicate securely without their data being intercepted.

Microbus, which has been supplying technology for nearly 30 years, manufactures in the UK. It controls the intellectual property rights of the technology and the processes behind designing and building the products from the component level up.

More than 10,000 Microbus vehicle-based computers are used daily by emergency services around the world. It also supplies an additional several thousand units in UK black cab taxis, national bus fleets and specialist vehicle fleets.

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