However, the group has hinted it may be seeking a buyer now that its intensive reorganisation strategy is in its mature stages. The board has appointed Rothschild to “conduct a strategic review of the options” available to maximise shareholder value.
Chief executive Nick Lancaster says this could mean a sale to a larger group, or reverting to a private company. “HR Owen will protect the strong relationships with our vehicle manufacturer partners,” he says, adding: “The business is in very good shape financially.”
The group has continued to respond to block exemption changes and the financial pressures of operating within the M25 by concentrating on prestige and specialist marques. Six of its 11 operational regions have achieved a profit, backed by a significant contribution from finance sales.
A solid performance came from its Specialist Division, including record results from Bentley and Lamborghini franchises, while that of its remaining business was varied.
Good performances from Audi and Chrysler in particular were offset by “difficult trading conditions” at many of its remaining franchises, including Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and the Premier Automotive Group.
Nevertheless, the group is upbeat about the year ahead.
“We are satisfied the work in reorganising the group’s businesses into fewer manufacturing relationships through large market areas will prove to be a successful and profitable programme for the future,” says chairman John MacArthur.
“The first quarter has been less satisfactory for new and used vehicle sales, but a significant number of new models provides a sound base for improving results.”