The £50m turnover group, which has Kia, Chrysler, Subaru and Daihatsu franchises and two World of Cars superstores, was expected to make a statement as this week. But a notice on the Cardiff site, which appeared at the weekend, states: “Ken Thorne Group is no longer open for business. Any concerns about your vehicle, then contact this showroom after 10am on Monday.”
Staff have been told that they might no longer have jobs at the company - no-one is answering the phones at the two Cardiff, Neath and Swansea outlets.
AM-online understands that the World of Cars business is in financial trouble after one of the banks called in its debt. However, the situation is not thought to directly impact on the KT Partnership, which includes the new car franchises.
One source says: “The company was given a 48-hour stay of execution over the weekend. It is hopeful of finding a partner to take on the World of Cars debt.
“The new car business should be OK, but it depends on the amount of cross-fertilisation and how much debt is being carried - in theory both companies could be taken down.”
Owner Ken Thorne had an ambitious growth strategy for the World of Cars operation. But plans to open centres in Bristol and Swindon were delayed after the group encountered planning issues.
“It's a classic case of a company over-stretching itself,” adds the source. However, carmakers were rallying round the stricken company. Daihatsu importer IM Group is hopeful that the company will be able to resolve its difficulties.
“We have had a long relationship with Ken Thorne and we will stand by him if he can sort the situation out,” says an IM spokesman.
To compound his problems, Thorne is still being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading which says it has received a “disproportionate” number of customer complaints. This follows a similar case last year after which Thorne was awarded £40,000 in costs against the OFT.