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Lex takes 30% Autohit stake

Lex Service has paid £5m for a 30% stake in Autohit, the internet-based stock locator, with an option to increase its share “significantly” in due course.

The dealer group's finances were boosted this week with the enforced sale of four Bodycentres to insurance giant Royal & SunAlliance.

The investment will give Autohit the necessary funds to enhance its user interface and roll-out a series of “revolutionary” platform developments. These will include the American 'Facetime' facility, which provides customers with immediate contact from operators working in the internet equivalent of a call-centre.

Lex will appoint directors Mark Lewis and David Galloway and RAC marketing director Ken Lee to the Autohit board. They will help build links between Autohit, the RAC website and a Californian-based internet developer CarClub.com.

However, the group has closed its Bodycentre division after selling four outlets - Walsall, Glasgow, Leeds and Luton - to Royal & SunAlliance.

A spokesman said: “Lex doesn't feel there is an opportunity to build a large independent body repair group. It sold four Bodycentres and merged the remaining four outlets into the Lex Retail dealership network.”

Lex Retail now has 19 bodyshops linked to dealerships. Lex Service posted a pretax profit of £64.1m last year, compared to £73.3m profits on sales of £1.14bn in 1998. But it took a £14m loss on Lex Vehicle Leasing, the 50% joint venture with Halifax.

Mr Harrison said new product launches and the success of the Jaguar S-type helped “cushion” Lex Retail from the full effect of the slowdown in new car demand.

The division contributed £8.3m to Lex profits last year (£9.2m in 1998) on turnover of £602.6m (£607.6m in 1998).

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