The transfer, which comprises four dealerships in Maidstone, Tonbridge, Ashford and Canterbury plus an aftersales centre in Gillingham, takes effect from January 4, 2005. The outlets effectively make up the official Mercedes-Benz and Smart sales territory for Kent, outside the M25.
All existing staff, other than two directors, will be retained by Dutton-Forshaw, which says it will continue the extensive programme of investment begun by Whitehouse. Dutton-Forshaw, part of the Lloyds TSB Grpup and with a £312m turnover, has stated publicly that it intends to continue to prrsude a policy of growth through acquisition.
In June Whitehouse, No 23 in the AM100 update in November and with a £399m turnover, severed its links with Honda after selling its sole dealership with the franchise at Bexleyheath, Kent, to Dutton-Forshaw for an undisclosed sum. This followed the loss of its Volkswagen franchise in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and the disposal of an Audi centre in Aylesford, Kent.
At the time Patrick Conway, Whitehouse chief executive, said: “Our policy is to create larger retail areas with fewer manufacturers. Our main partners are BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, ChryslerJeep and Renault but we will not confine ourselves to them.
We believe that MG Rover is an up and coming franchise and we are developing a parts business with them.”
Whitehouse has recently expanded its Audi operation and intends to concentrate on strengthening its existing franchises throughout the south-east.
Earlier this year, the business had been named Kent's largest private company in a survey by the media business Kent Messenger Group. Whitehouse was named the 2003 AM retailer of the year and was also the 29th fastest growing business in the county with 62.7% growth over the period 2000-2003.
That followed a two-year buying spree, which saw turnover rise from £188m in 2000 to £306m in 2003, and outlets from 24 to 41.
It has stated its intention to consolidate its position, possibly picking up a couple of new sites, but mostly concentrating investment on upgrading existing facilities to meet demanding franchise requirements.
Further acquisitions were planned for 2005, targeting 50 outlets.