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Virgin success 'made Ford launch website'

Chief executive Ian Lancaster has claimed that Virgin Cars' online proposition was the “inspiration” for Ford's direct sales website. Mr Lancaster said the success of Virgin had forced Ford into a policy U-turn.

Speaking at Birmingham motor show, Mr Lancaster said: “It's great news that Ford is following our lead. Ian McAllister said when we launched that the customer needed to feel the salesman's breath when buying a car. He's obviously had a change of heart.

“We're not worried by Ford's entry to the internet marketplace. Despite its recent price adjustments Virgin Cars' prices are still around 18% cheaper across the range than Ford's.”

Mr Lancaster also responded to comments by Nick Reilly, Vauxhall chairman and managing director, that Virgin decided to offer nearly new cars because of a lack of success in selling new ones.

He said: “We've sold almost 2,000 cars in four months on a margin of nearly 4% and a turnover approaching £30m. A move into nearly new was part of our strategy because up to 40% of drivers looking to replace their car in the next 12 months would consider buying a nearly new vehicle.”

Virgin Cars' nearly new strategy, revealed at Automotive Management's autumn conference, is aimed at meeting the challenge made by cut-price car supermarkets. Virgin claims its prices are lower than those at manufacturers' used car operations.

Virgin's 'buy with confidence' offer includes a seven-day refund or 30-day exchange, RAC inspection, a minimum 12 months' warranty, AA roadside assistance, road fund licence and a full tank of fuel.

Virgin expected to be able to offer nearly new cars from seven manufacturers by the end of this week, starting with Ford and Vauxhall.

The cars will be sourced from rental firms and remarketing companies. Mr Lancaster would not name the suppliers. “We are providing a useful remarketing service to manufacturers which have more used cars in stock than the dealers can absorb,” said Mr Lancaster.

“We aim to meet the prices asked by car supermarkets head on and be 5-10% cheaper than manufacturers' dealer-backed used car programmes. We're aiming to see the market as the consumer sees it not the carmakers.”

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