Vertu Motors speeds north after landing first its Scots dealership

VERTU Motors, the acquisitive car dealership group, has made its first foray north of the Border as it looks to drive further into the Scottish market.

The Aim-listed firm, which is ranked the ninth-largest motor retailer in the UK less than four years after being founded, said it would use the 2.7 million acquisition of Dunfermline Autocentre as a springboard for expansion.

Vertu was set up in autumn 2006 and floated as a cash shell to take advantage of consolidation within the industry. It trades mainly under the Bristol Street Motors banner from some 60 sites following the March 2007 acquisition of the UK's 13th largest motor retailer.

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Chief executive Robert Forrester said he was "excited" about the opportunities the Fife deal presented.

He said: "Scotland's central belt is one of the major regions of Britain and if we aim to be a national company then we need to have presence in Scotland.

"There will always be changes of ownership with motor dealerships. It's far easier to buy businesses and dealerships if you already have a presence there."

The takeover, which is being funded from Vertu's existing cash resources, is labelled a related party transaction under stock exchange rules.

Forrester, who was managing director of the Reg Vardy chain prior to its sale to Pendragon in 2006, holds just under a fifth of Boydslaw, the owner of Dunfermline Autocentre. He would receive his consideration in shares rather than cash.

Shareholder approval for the deal will be sought at a general meeting on 29 January.

The motor group, which is headquartered in Newcastle, said it would have 17 Ford dealerships following the push into Scotland. The Dunfermline Autocentre branding will remain.

Vertu, whose showrooms sell marques including Honda, Hyundai, Vauxhall and Chevrolet, will face stiff opposition north of the Border from established heavyweights such as Arnold Clark, Eastern Western and Belmont-owner John Martin.

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Indigenous dealerships Phoenix Car Company and Peter Vardy have also been hitting the acquisition trail in recent years.

Forrester admitted there had been "a lot of change in the industry" but said there were "still reasons to be optimistic". He said: "People will always buy cars."

Michael Vassallo, an analyst at stockbroker Brewin Dolphin, said: "We believe this is an attractively priced acquisition of a well run dealership and is a good entry point into Scotland."

Panmure Gordon retained its "buy" recommendation on Vertu's shares, adding that the stock was a "key pick for 2010".

• Lookers, the listed motor group that owns the venerable Taggarts brand, yesterday told investors that it expected to deliver a record trading performance for the year.