UK: Record first half for motor dealer group Lookers

MOTOR dealership group Lookers today posted record first-half profits as Britons defied the economic downturn by returning to its showrooms.

The group, which has 120 franchise dealerships including more than a dozen in Essex and Suffolk at locations including Colchester, Sudbury, Braintree, Witham and Chelmsford, said the number of new and used cars sold to private buyers increased by 11% during the period.

Lookers grew its share of a resurgent private new car market, which grew 8.7% as private buyers shrugged off austerity Britain as brands such as Audi and LandRover proved popular in recent months, although sales to businesses declined.

In its used car division gross profits increased nearly 10% as it grew share of the market with the help of internet activities.

Underlying profits rose 6.6% to �24.1 million in the period, driven by a record performance in its motor division, while revenues rose 3% to �1 billion.

But sales through its parts division fell slightly as consumers deferred maintenance on non-essential items in the tough economic climate.

Chief executive Peter Jones said despite the recent encouraging figures, the new car market is still down about 20% since the financial crisis started and the group had improved its share of both the new and used markets.

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He said: “We have made profit gains over the last four years at a time when the market has been at its worst since the mid-1990s.

“There are a lot of great deals from manufacturers about at the moment and now is a great time to buy a new car.”

Numis analyst Matthew Taylor hiked his full-year pre-tax profits forecast by �500,000 to �35.7 million, which would represent a 6% increase on 2011.