Disposals contributed £3m to pre-tax profit, and although pushing down turnover to £669m, (2001=£690m), allowed the group to substantially reduce interest charges. Gearing has gone down from 53.4 per cent in 2001 to 29.3 per cent in this period.
Star performance was from the group's Specialist Division, with its Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar, Aston Martin and Land Rover marques enjoying a 27 per cent increase in sales volumes. Sales of new vehicles in that division rose 33 per cent. Operating margin was 2.77 per cent.
In spite of a strong 2001 result, the Volume Division also managed to improve its position with sales 3 per cent ahead of last year. The division returned 2.22 per cent operating margin.
Used car sales were also buoyant – rising by 6 per cent as a result of a move to lower value cars and a return of significant volumes of nearly new cars from September onwards.
The group says block exemption is delivering significant acquisition opportunities, and Sir Peter Vardy used the interims announcement to reveal that it is to take on one Jaguar and two Land Rover dealerships in the East of Scotland from 1 February 2003.
Says Vardy: “The acquisitions, funded by our strong balance sheet, will take us further towards our goal of being the dominant motor retailer in our chosen operating regions with a substantially increased number of dealerships by the end of 2004”.