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The Big Picture: Changes at the top

'In the first year it was Sir Peter Vardy; last year it was RMI chief executive Matthew Carrington. And this year? This year, Trevor Finn, chief executive at Pendragon, tops the AM Power List.

In the two years since Automotive Management and AutoTrade were merged, repackaged, redesigned and relaunched as AM, plenty has happened in the industry. We've been through block exemption – to some the biggest change ever to hit the automotive industry; to others little more than a damp squib – we've had a raft of new legislation, and we've seen some familiar faces sold, collapsed or merged. In retrospect, the AM Power List reflects much of this. But what kind of impact have the people listed actually had?

Of the top 10 in 2002, just three are in this year's top 10: Sir Peter Vardy, Gordon Brown and Trevor Finn. And these three have had a major impact on the industry.

Brown's economic policies have ensured low interest rates, which have encouraged high borrowing and strong new car sales; Finn is the leading industry consolidator, closely followed by Vardy.

Out of the top 10, however, are Wolfgang Reitzle, who swapped Ford's Premier Automotive Group for fork-lift trucks; Tony Bramall, who this year sold to Pendragon; Jeremy Clarkson, who has become more of an entertainer than motoring journalist; Vauxhall MD Kevin Wale, now at No 11; Sir Arnold Clark, now 16th; Sir Ian Gibson, retired; and Andy Harrison, Lex chief executive, who drops out of the list altogether after Lex sold most of its automotive interests.

This year the key movers include Earl Hesterberg, the Ford of Europe vice-president of sales and marketing at No 2, who is spearheading Ford's move into automotive retail. Others to watch are John Vickers, director-general at the Office of Fair Trading, who becomes responsible for policing and enforcing the revised block exemption rules in the UK, and Peter Johnson, who heads Inchcape plc. That group has been quiet for a couple of years, but Johnson is promising significant expansion of Inchcape Retail this year which will focus attention once again at the top of the AM100.

Heading that list, Trevor Finn is someone who is more businessman than car dealer. He has defied critics by building a group through big acquisitions like Evans Halshaw, Lex and CD Bramall. Now twice the size of its nearest competitor, Pendragon is being watched by everyone. How will Finn's relationships change with carmakers – who holds the upper hand in negotiations? – and what happens next? Will some sites be sold? How long before he makes more purchases? Whatever Finn does over the next 12 months, there's no doubting the impact it will have on the whole industry.

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