It is based on a format that had been under development for 12 months by Bristol Street Motors when it was acquired by Vertu in March.
Robert Forrester, Vertu Motors chief executive, said: “Each of our Bristol Street outlets has a separate website, and these will be linked. This will mean customers can view all our used cars, including stock held by Motor Nation, our used car brand.
“We feel online customers are served best by talking to or emailing specialist staff rather than people in a dealership who are busy with other responsibilities. We will have 10 people working in the call centre by the end of the month.”
Forrester is not revealing Vertu’s targets for online sales, which will be completed through its dealerships. The group might move to direct deliveries “in time” and he sees continuing growth in online research and enquiries by customers.
The new website and call centre were announced by Forrester at Vertu’s annual meeting. He told shareholders good progress was being made in the strategic objective of acquiring and consolidating dealerships – it now has 46.
“Significant management changes have taken place at acquired dealerships considered to be under-performing,” said Forrester.
“The board believes that these changes have been largely completed and we expect to see the resulting performance improvements.”
Vertu has cut costs by closing the former head offices of Bristol Street Motors and the Blakes Group, another acquisition. Its head office is now at Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
“In addition, progress continues to be made in using the greater scale of the group to obtain better purchasing terms,” said Forrester.
He said the group has surplus properties with estimated proceeds and book value of around £12 million, with a number of sites conditionally contracted for sale. The board expects a number of disposals to be completed in the first half of 2008.
“These anticipated funds will be used initially to reduce group debts but they will also add to our capacity to make acquisitions in the future,” said Forrester.
Sales of new cars to retail buyers through Bristol Street Motors’ dealerships from April to July rose 7.8% year-on-year. “This excellent performance has been aided by new model launches in a number of our franchises together with strong consumer offers and has been achieved without any pre-registration of new vehicles,” said Forrester.
The Bristol Street outlets (acquired in March) increased used car volumes on a like-for-like basis by 8.0% between April and July.
“Since March, used car values have reduced at a steeper rate than in the previous 24 months, which has put margins under pressure,” said Forrester.