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Mystery surrounds Dixon’s exit

The Royal Bank of Scotland has ended its venture into motor retail management after a little more than three years with an exit from running Dixon Motors that is shrouded in mystery.

John Haines, an automotive executive better known around the Pacific Rim than in the UK, has emerged as chairman and chief executive of the Yorkshire-based group. In June, Dixon Motors stood at number 11 in the new AM100 with a turnover estimated at £800m.

Haines is the major investor, with Chris Kent, the new finance director, also taking a stake. Kent is an accountant who joined PricewaterhouseCoopers’ automotive division in 2001 after holding financial positions with Evans Halshaw (since acquired by Pendragon) and Ryland Group.

Haines and Kent have taken an undisclosed “major shareholding” in Dixon Motors, plus “full management and operational control of the business” with immediate effect.

RBS retains “a significant economic interest” in Dixon – thought to be around 20% – and continues as its banker.

The bank is understood to have lost a substantial sum – possibly tens of millions of pounds – since acquiring Dixon Motors for £110m in the spring of 2002.

Asked why RBS had relinquished control, a spokesman says: “We keep all of our businesses under constant review and, having explored a range of options, decided to bring in a business partner.

“John Haines presents the best option for the future benefit of all stakeholders. He has considerable motor retail credentials and will focus the business on its core retail activities.”

Tim Richmond, of broker Arden Partners, says: “RBS made a strategic move in acquiring Dixon, has decided it’s not sensible to continue and this is as quiet an exit as it can achieve.

“There is not much freehold property in the group because many premises were sold and leased back when Paul Dixon was heading the company.”

Haines’ career began with Ford Motor Credit in 1973. After a spell outside automotive, he joined Lex Mead as sales and marketing director (the division retailed British industry cars from Austins to Jaguars).

He worked for Inchcape between 1986 and 1997 where he was a main board director in the Pacific region. At one time, Haines was in charge of Toyota distribution across most of Asia.

Haines says: “Chris Kent and I bought our stake in Dixon Motors with private money. I have made management changes and we will be reviewing all aspects of the company over the next few months.

“I will not comment on speculation that RBS lost tens of millions of pounds running Dixon. The group has ‘scale’ and I am confident it can be turned into a successful business.

“We are working through discussions with the group’s manufacturers, and I believe all or most of them will want us to continue with them.”

Haines dismissed industry speculation that Tony Bramall, who sold CD Bramall to Pendragon for £230m in January 2004, had been in the running to buy Dixon Motors.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# The history of Dixon Motors

Paul Dixon launched his company as a traditional dealer group with 10 outlets in 1990 but pushed through a series of innovative ideas before selling to RBS.

His boldest venture was a major investment in a computerized PDI centre next to Dixon Motors’ headquarters at Thorne, near Doncaster. It was seen as rash at the time, but may now make more sense as manufacturers look for ways to cut distribution costs.

The Thorne centre helped Dixon Motors win the contract to supply new vehicles to Jamjarcars, a cut-price home-delivery operation launched by RBS through its Direct Line insurance subsidiary in July 2000.

This was shortly after the introduction of the Dixon Real Price List to combat the sales threat posed by the then growing array of internet-based importers.

In March 2001, Dixon Motors posted a record pre-tax profit of £12.06m (up 55%) on turnover of £817m (up 16.4%). In April 2002, RBS acquired Dixon Motors through its Lombard North Central division.

In April 2004, Paul Dixon and his son Simon, and directors Sal Ciullo and Noel Parkinson, left and the bank put in its own management team. Since then, Dixon’s turnover is thought to have declined and its profits/losses have not been divulged.

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