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Wanted: retail network to sell ‘modern’ classic

Bob Barris, who quit as managing director of SsangYong UK last year, is acting as consultant for a new franchise company offering dealers an opportunity to profit from the sports car market.

Lifestyle Automotive has been formed by Tom Martin, former SsangYong UK marketing director, and Denis Keenan and John Halstead, both former executives at Vardy Contract Motoring.

This month it announced a deal to import and franchise the TD2000, a vehicle with the styling of a Fifties MGTD, but using Toyota drivetrain and mechanicals.

Four UK dealers have already been appointed: Broadwater Classics in Northamptonshire; ARD Sports in east Yorkshire; Kent Elms Group in Essex and RS Nichol & Sons in Scotland.

Now Lifestyle Automotive wants around four more for a network of eight showrooms.

The TD2000 will be promoted at next month’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, where Barris hopes to announce a second distribution contract, which will be followed by others as the business develops.

“Our plan is to launch three to four franchises over the next 10 months. We have to put this together because a small franchise on its own doesn’t make sense but if we package them together they will work,” says Barris.

“It’s a low volume specialism, so the dealers we have recruited generally have other franchises, too. Now we’re getting interest from people with a volume franchise because they are not making money from it, and realise that a niche brand brings increased margins.”

Barris says dealers need to be committed; they won’t make money if they leave the car parked in a corner of the showroom. But margins will encourage sales staff.

“The franchise requirements are not arduous – if we’re going to get them to sell something in low volumes we’ve got to make it attractive for them – but their work is vital,” he says. “We anticipate dealers will be able to make decent margins.”

Hand-built in Malaysia and priced from £24,000, the rear-wheel driven TD2000 has a 130bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission from the Toyota Rav4. Other features include disc brakes, fibreglass bodywork, independent front suspension and live axle rear suspension.

“There are people out there with money to spend who want something special for their second or third car,” Barris says. “The TD2000 offers them the shape and style of a classic sports car but when they turn they key they’ll know it will start.”

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