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WH Group sold

Ford Motor Company was this week believed to have acquired WH Group, Europe's largest supplier of mechanical breakdown insurance warranties.

It follows Ford's purchase of Kwik-Fit and would be an important phase of its development as a motoring services provider.

Warranty Holdings was founded in 1973 by Rick Pinkney who, like Kwik-Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer, is an entrepreneur who built a brand.

While it is believed the buyer is Ford, a spokesman would neither confirm nor deny it as Automotive Management went to press on Tuesday.

The Oriel Group acquired WH in 1993. By then WH was the UK market leader in breakdown insurance.

Three years ago Oman National Holding Company paid £36.9m for Oriel Group after holding a 22% stake for five years. ONHC is one of the world's largest providers of warranties with businesses throughout the Middle East and Far East, Europe and South Africa.

Over the past five years, WH has developed a wider range of products based on customer satisfaction and retention, which would be one of the main appeals to Ford.

The WH Group 20/20 Vision research programme forecasts the development of the automotive industry over the next two decades.

Since taking over as Ford Motor Company chief executive, Jac Nasser has pursued a policy of hectic acquisitions, including Land Rover and Volvo.

Mr Nasser believes in brands and has increased investment in Jaguar which has three assembly plants in the UK. WH Group would sit well with Kwik-Fit which specialises in rapid repairs and replacements, such as exhausts.

This month there have been reports in the US about tensions between Mr Nasser and William Ford, chairman and great-grandson of founder Henry. Mr Ford is believed to be insisting on a greater say in the running of the company, claiming he has been excluded from contact with senior managers.

WH Group became a force in the motor industry from 1984 when it launched Motor Cover which continues to be a leading used vehicles brand. This was followed two years later by Drive Assured, now WH's largest brand in the used vehicle market.

Expansion came in 1992 with the formation of a separate corporate division to respond to the needs of manufacturers and major dealer groups. Early clients included Honda, Daihatsu, TVR and Volvo Trucks.

Used vehicle warranty programmes for Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Leyland Daf were launched in 1995. It took over Renault UK's new car warranty programme the following year.

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