Growth-bid Lookers keeping an eye out for dealerships in region

Lookers, One of the UK's biggest car dealerships, is on the hunt for dealerships in Yorkshire as part of its plans to double the size of its business in the county.

Lookers’ chief executive Andy Bruce said the firm is on the hunt for dealerships in Leeds, Sheffield, Wakefield, Harrogate, Bradford and York.

“Yorkshire is about 5 per cent of our business and our goal is to get to 10 per cent,” said Mr Bruce.

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“We sell 10,000 new and used cars a year in Yorkshire and we’d like to double that figure. We are looking at big cities. We don’t want to be in small towns.”

He said that the group is underweight in Yorkshire, despite it having a significant population.

“We’re keen on VW. The emissions scandal has come and gone. VW are putting some really good deals out there,” said Mr Bruce.

Lookers expects new car sales to rise to an all-time high this year, boosted by rising consumer confidence and cheap finance packages​.

The group, which already has operations in Leeds, Sheffield, Harrogate and Northallerton,​ said new car registrations hit 2.63 million last year and could top three million in the coming years.

“I think the market could hit an all time high this year. Over the last 15 years the average new car registrations was 2.4 million a year. We’ve now got a higher population and GDP has grown. I think it will hit three million over the next few years,” said Mr Bruce.

He estimates that the market could rise by five per cent this year. New registration plates are released in March and September each year.

Lookers’ finance director, Robin Gregson, said that the company’s pre-tax profits ​​rose 6 per cent to £72.1​m in 2015 and revenue jumped 20 per cent to £3.65bn.

Mr Bruce said the market has been buoyed by an increasing population in the UK so more people need to buy cars. At the same time disposable incomes have gone up and unemployment is at a very low level.

“Cars are cheaper than ever,” said Mr Bruce.

“80 per cent of our customers take out a cheap finance package. It’s the default way now. People budget monthly for their car. It’s not the same need to own them.”

A small VW car now costs £119 a month and as customers don’t pay off the full amount within the three year contract, most people go onto another financing deal at the end of the three year period.

“96 per cent of customers choose to stay on the payment scheme,” said Mr Bruce.

“People used to talk about cars being a big ticket item, but it costs just £6 a day - it’s the price of a coffee and a sandwich. £6 a day is hard to beat.”

Lookers said 2015 was its seventh consecutive year of increased profits. The group said both its motor division and its parts divisions produced “excellent” results.

“Our strategy is to have the right brands, the right locations and excellent execution,” said Mr Bruce.

“By implementing this, we are ideally placed to take advantage of growth prospects across all areas of the business as well as consolidation opportunities in the sector, not least because businesses of scale will be the winners in our sector. This gives us confidence that we will deliver another improved performance in 2016.”

The group’s £87.5m acquisition of Benfield Motor Group last September has expanded its footprint in Yorkshire.

Benfield brought two Ford dealerships in Leeds, which complement Lookers’ existing Ford dealership in Sheffield.

Lookers is about to take on the Nissan franchise for the whole of Leeds.

Lookers is a growing multi-franchise dealer group which represents 31 volume and premium car manufacturers throughout the UK and Ireland.

Founded in Manchester in 1908 by John Looker, initially the company sold bicycles, parts, accessories and the occasional used car.

In 1910 the business joined forces with a garage owner create Lookers Ltd. Until the First World War Lookers Ltd was primarily a Ford dealer which thrived on the popularity of Ford cars.

The business was appointed a distributor of Austin motor vehicles in 1918 and continued to grow throughout Lancashire and Cheshire through the acquisition of a number of garages. Lookers and Austin became very closely associated and the slogan “Lookers is Austin” lasted for many years.

In 1929 John Looker retired. The business continued to prosper until World War II war started in 1939 when the Austin factory was committed to the war effort and there were hard times throughout the country.

The first major acquisition occurred in the 1960s when the group moved into Yorkshire.

The company floated in 1973.