Ford has spent £20m in the past 12 months (and more than double that in the past two years) investing in its dealer network. It now has a share in the two largest volume dealer groups in the country.
Independent Ford dealers are naturally nervous about the UK market leader's ambitions, despite assurances that all this expenditure is simply a way of developing “best practice”.
Peugeot can rightfully claim its ownership of Robins & Day is an historical accident. But the business has been developed to the point where it takes the lion's share of sales volume and runs dealerships in many of the major urban areas.
Renault Retail Group is expanding again after a couple of years lying dormant while the company worked out what to do with its London retailers. RRG will shortly run all the Renault dealerships in north London and is poised to fill open points south of the Thames if suitable applicants cannot be found.
And what of Audi? The sheer cost of creating a separate network from Volkswagen has pushed the importer into a position where it now owns 12, almost 10%, of its retail outlets. It has a further 18 dealerships on a joint-venture start-up programme.
If, after 2002, carmakers have been forced to loosen their grip on their networks these investments will be seen as bargains; not expensive experiments.
Whichever way you look at it, a powerful independent dealer body is not in the interests of the car manufacturers and importers.