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The Big Picture: Turbulent time still to come

Phew! What a year that was – right up until the final day when Cambria swooped for Summit. We saw manufacturers divorcing, significant dealer acquisitions and sizeable collapses, profits under pressure, the credit crunch and the housing market slowdown. And on top of it all, new car sales were apparently up by 2.5% (though how much of this was forced registrations is anyone’s guess).

This year will be more turbulent than ever. Tata will become the new owner of Land Rover and Jaguar, the Chinese will launch in the UK (Landwind and Nanjing/SAIC), real new car sales will fall and, if analysts are to be believed, private equity groups and hedge funds will move to break up the UK’s biggest car retail group, Pendragon.

Consolidation will continue but this year will be dominated by small-scale acquisitions.

Retail winners this year? Of the big groups, Lookers continues to impress with its results and diversification policy, though performance in its used car supermarkets must improve; Arnold Clark is a licence to print money in Scotland, though its challenge is to transport its ability to control prices and the business as it expands into England; Inchcape is following the growth opportunities into eastern Europe but needs to offload those pesky 40-odd unwanted dealerships in England; Vertu Motors has an impressive management team and is becoming the darling of the City; Sytner has slipped a little under the radar but has the financial backing and industry respect to be up there with the leaders.

The real winners, though, are those regional groups with enough self-restraint to avoid becoming too large – groups like Listers, Beadles, Perrys, Norton Way, Benfield, Cambria and Wayside, to name but a few. They have management control and vision and are contented just to make good profits, provide outstanding customer service and be highly rated as employers.

Manufacturer winners will be those with new models and good dealer relations: Audi, Ford, Vauxhall, Mazda and Honda should all fare well this year.

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