East Anglia: Law firm Birketts launches specialist motor industry team

EAST Anglian law firm Birketts LLP has launched a new motor industry group, bringing together a team of specialist lawyers with extensive experience of the issues faced by those operating in the automotive sector.

The specialist division has been created to build on Birketts’ long history of advising automotive industry clients, with the aim to establishing the law firm as a driving force within a sector which plays an important part in the UK economy.

Heading the team is Birketts consultant Richard Wollaston who has more than 30 years’ experience of working with vehicle retailers, manufacturers and other businesses in the automotive supply chain.

The specialist lawyers will provide assistance in a number of key areas including competition law, dealer franchise agreements, consumer credit and property.

“One could be forgiven for thinking that the future of the UK motor industry is bleak,” said Mr Wollaston. “But at the end of 2011, David Cameron pronounced that the British car industry is doing well and is helping to lead an export-led recovery and rebalancing of the economy.

“For many retailers these are still difficult times with demand down and tight margins on sales of new vehicles.

“However, figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in the last two weeks have revealed that car production in the country has risen to its highest May output since 2004 and it also reported a jump in car sales in May.

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“In the meantime those operating in the retail motor sector are concentrating on broadening means of raising revenue including second hand cars, selling finance deals or parts dealing.”

He added: added: “Although dealerships are a key area for us we are also working with other businesses associated with the industry including a facilities management company working with manufacturers and a car auction business.”

To launch the new division, Birketts hosted two motor industry dinners, in Colchester and Newmarket. The events featured high profile speakers including Professor Garel Rhys, director for automotive industry research at Cardiff Business School, Kevin Ward, an independent banking consultant specialising in the motor trade, and John Kiff, senior advisor for the International Car Distribution Programme.

At the Newmarket event, Garel Rhys expressed optimistic about the future of the motor industry and highlighted that the UK now has a positive balance of payments on car export over import. By selling expensive and specialist cars like Bentley, Jaguar and Land Rover, based on value rather than volume, the UK now only has to export two cars to cover the cost of three imports.

However, he stressed that the next 12 months could still prove challenging. He said: “The long term outlook for dealers is very good, but they need to be cautious in the short term. Although the market is increasing in size at the moment it is based on an economy in recession and there could still be surprises along the way.”

Mark Ovenden, newly appointed managing director of Ford Britain, attended the Colchester event and gave an impromptu address providing an insight into the development of motor manufacturing in Russia where he had spent three years setting up a joint venture for the manufacture and sale of Ford cars.

Mr Wollaston said: “Mark prompted an interesting discussion as dealers in the UK are concerned that Europe and America may be neglected as manufacturers focus on emerging markets.

“It was interesting to hear Mark’s predictions that Russia is likely to become one of the main global manufacturing forces in the future as it is very well geographically placed to serve the emerging markets in the Middle and Far East as well as the Western European Market.”

Other issues currently affecting the motor trade and discussed at the events including the new Block Exemption regulations and changes in EU competition law.