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At the dawn of the Millennium the established franchised dealer system faces an uncertain future. That inescapable fact is reflected in this publication, Automotive Management's third annual Franchising Report.

It is extraordinary that this multi-billion pound business is in a position where long term strategic and investment decisions are being made without any insight into the legislative structure which will be in place in three year's time. The review of Block Exemption, which must be completed by September 2002, will affect all of us in the months and years to come.

So perhaps it is not surprising that, in compiling this year's Report, we found several carmakers more reluctant than usual to reveal their plans for the future. Either there is increased sensitivity about network sizes and the number of dealerships owners the carmakers want to deal with - or perhaps they genuinely don't yet know.

Another sign of the times is the increased carmaker investment in dealerships. Ford's high profile joint-ventures are the most obvious but companies such as Audi (12), BMW (2), Mitsubishi (7), Nissan (6), Peugeot (27) and Renault (19) are now becoming major forces in retailing. For the second year running we have included, alongside each entry, the National Franchised Dealers Association 'Value' ranking for any franchises which are included in their twice-yearly survey.

This ranking is based on the 'overall value' the dealers themselves put on the franchises they hold. We also list separately the 'future profit potential' ratings from the same survey.

We are aware the NFDA survey has been controversial in the past but, last summer, the statistical base for the survey was increased and we believe it is an accurate, independent assessment of the worth of each business. We are grateful to the NFDA for allowing its use.

As always, much of the commentary which accompanies each entry is based on private conversations with carmakers, dealership directors, sales staff and suppliers. We are grateful for their help and guidance. We hope, once again, the Franchising Report will provide essential reading for the whole industry - and help clarify strategic thinking for the years to come.

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