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Cook takes advice on Watchdog claim

Derek Cook, who runs Virgin Cars, is consulting lawyers over a “completely untrue” allegation on Watchdog, the BBC1 consumer affairs programme, about a separate business.

Watchdog said DC Cook Direct was “thrown out of a fair trading scheme”, in part for selling warranties on cars already covered. Virgin Cars and DC Cook Direct are trading names within Motor Solutions, founded by Cook and in which Virgin Group now has a 53% stake.

Cook says: “Watchdog’s comment about DC Cook Direct selling warranties on cars already covered by a manufacturer’s warranty is wrong, and damaging to my name.

“The business referred to in the programme was DC Cook Rother-ham Car Supermarket which is run by members of my family and part-funded by private investors.

“It is nothing to do with Virgin, or me, although I allowed them to use my name because DC Cook is well known in south Yorkshire. They withdrew from a local fair trading scheme because they did not think the standards were high enough, and did not sell warranties on cars already covered by manufacturers’ warranties.”

Watchdog interviewed three disgruntled customers of Virgin Cars (AM Nov 5), acquired by Cook in February when Virgin Group took a 25% stake in his Motor Solutions company. Virgin later increased this to a controlling shareholding, although Cook says he and his family retain management control.

Cook claims Motor Solutions/ Virgin Cars is now the UK’s largest direct retailer of cars, running at the rate of 24,000 a year, and rising. He says between 80% and 90% are now sold as Virgin-branded, including those supplied via an affinity arrangement with Makro, the cash and carry group.

The complaints broadcast by Watchdog focused on late or non delivery, supplying used cars repaired after crash damage and failing to respond to customers’ queries and complaints.

Watchdog told AM it has this year received 80 complaints from customers of Virgin Cars. Cook disputes this figure: “We sell about 2,000 cars a month, one in three of them in 10 days, and over 1,000 early.

“Even if Watchdog’s claim of 80 complaints this year is correct, that’s four in every 1,000 customers. From our industry knowledge and experience, we know that is far fewer than traditional car dealers’ experience.”

Dean Dolan, who manages Motor Solutions’ database, says: “We have high and exacting standards and I believe our customer dissatisfaction rate – based on industry average CSI standards – is probably the lowest in the industry.”

A woman interviewed by Watchdog said her Vauxhall Astra was delivered with paint spray on a seat belt, indicating it had repaired damage.

Watchdog did not make clear it was an 03 used car and, says Dolan, an AA report showed it had been repaired to a fair standard. Motor Solutions replaced the Astra with a 53 at no additional cost. After a complaint this had also been damaged, three independent reports (AA, RAC and TS) all reported repair to “a good standard”, says Dolan.

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