The £500m turnover group wants to grow from 21 sites to 55 over the next 18 months to two years by taking advantage of changes to block exemption, according to managing director Maurice Rourke.
“The revisions will give smaller dealers the opportunity to sell to larger groups within the franchise,” he says. “Previously, there was pressure to sell a business to the manufacturer's preferred partner.”
Prior to introduction of the new regulations Dutton-Forshaw was forced to off-load Land Rover, Jaguar and Audi sites to the manufacturers' preferred partners. The group expects the final piece of the disposal puzzle to be complete by the end of the month, but Rourke remains tight-lipped about details.
However Dutton-Forshaw has already taken the first steps on the acquisition trail by snapping up Morden Volkswagen to support the group's Battersea, London site.
Rourke is pragmatic about future growth. “We will either go and buy another group if one is available and bolt it on or we will make small, selective acquisitions of brands that we know manufacturers would like us to represent,” he says. “We have got to move up a gear. We will be very aggressive.”
Rourke was brought in to run Oxfordshire-based Dutton-Forshaw after Lloyds TSB acquired the group for £48.7m in December 2002. Buying the retailer gave the bank a remarketing channel for its leasing arm's 155,000-vehicle fleet, which disposes of 70,000 cars annually.
The group plans to sell 20,000 new vehicles this year and 10,000 used – it is opening a used car centre with space for 500 vehicles, mainly ex-fleet, close to the M5 J2 in Birmingham. Five more sites are planned at locations across the UK.