From lockdowns to used car price rises, acquisitions to shock buy-outs, this year has been another that has kept the Car Dealer writers on their toes.
As we head into the festive period and a well-earned break for our keyboard bashers, I’ve been asked to look back at the my favourite stories of the year.
For me, there’s been quite a few that stood out – some for their pure shock value, others because they just made me laugh.
Here’s a few that either caught my eye or kept the editorial team busy over the last 12 months.
Marshall buy-out by We Buy Any Car owner
I’ll start with a recent one – the shock purchase of listed dealer group Marshall by Cinch and BCA owner Constellation Automotive Group. Earlier this year we were tipped off that the firm behind We Buy Any Car was on the hunt for a dealer group. Our contact told us it was targeting Motorpoint – and we ran a story to that effect with neither party denying the claims.
As is often the case with these rumours, there’s no smoke without fire. Perhaps the Motorpoint talks didn’t go as planned, but as we know Constellation instead made an offer for Marshall.
We were as shocked as the industry – and it seems the top team at Marshall – at the news. Just days after it was announced a deal could be struck, it was done. Marshall will leave the Stock Market in the new year and begin life in the hands of a juggernaut of the automotive world. I must say, I was a little sad at the news – mostly because we’ll miss the regular updates from one of the car dealer world’s most inspiring leaders.
The very angry car dealer
Let’s face it, we’ve all been there – pushed so far that you actually lose your cool. Unfortunately, when one Ford dealer principal lost his temper earlier this year, the whole thing was caught on camera.
Cuff Miller dealer principal James Baxter was caught telling a customer to ‘leave of I’ll f*****g make you leave’ at the height of the fuel crisis. The Facebook video posted by the customer – who could best be described as antagonistic himself – went viral, and even Ford condoned the behaviour of their franchisee.
How much profit do car dealers make?
One of our biggest stories of the year came as a result of a survey of consumers where we asked how much profit they thought car dealers make.
With the help of What Car?, the consumer poll revealed that perception versus reality was rather different.
The majority of the 1,500 quizzed believed car dealers made between 10-20 per cent profit on every car they sold. We also asked them how much they thought the manufacturers make, with the majority assuming there was at least 30 per cent profit there too. I was surprised at just how far off consumers were with their assumptions.
The man found hiding in car dealer a toilet
We pride ourselves on covering the latest breaking news here at Car Dealer – even when it is rather bizarre. Nothing this year, though, quite topped the story of the burglar found hiding in a car dealership toilet.
Christopher Lawrence broke into Cheaper Car Sales Garage in Caerphilly and was spotted by a passerby, who called the police. When they arrived at the dealership, cops found the tea leaf hiding in the loo. He later pleaded guilty when he appeared in court and was sent to jail – and we were left with one of my favourite headlines ever.
Arnold Clark’s whopping profit
Our Car Dealer Top 100 list of the most profitable dealers in the UK was published for the second time in November and reported on dealers’ performance during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite lockdowns, most groups improved their earnings considerably – but none more so than Arnold Clark.
The incredible dealer group, led by what many describe as the ‘best car dealer in the business’, Eddie Hawthorne, made a whopping £354.2m EBITDA profit for 2020. The figure was nearly double the second-placed group, Sytner, in our list and staggered the industry. Hawthorne told us if we thought 2020 was good, wait until we see the results for 2021…
Electric car grants slashed
Governments are good at burying bad news – and on the day that Omicron cases rocketed and rumours of a lockdown were looming – the government sneaked out news that it was cutting the electric car grant again.
It was the second time this year that ministers cut the help given to electric car buyers and comes at a time interest in the technology is soaring with buyers as they steer away from diesels for good. Perhaps all the good news stories from dealers reporting record profits didn’t help, but still, the quiet way the government slipped it out just wasn’t cricket.
Cambria goes private
Deal of the year has to go to Mark Lavery after he successfully took the listed dealer group private in an £82.5m deal. It took Lavery a while to get the required number of shareholders to agree to the offer, but eventually he did.
In August, Lavery spoke exclusively to Car Dealer about why he wanted to take the group private, stating he believed it would flourish away from the scrutiny of the Stock Market. We’re sure he’s right and look forward to reporting on its developments.
And finally some predictions…
Looking ahead to 2022, many will be wondering what’s going to happen to used car prices which have risen nearly 30 per cent since April. I’m sure they’ll remain high for some time yet as new car production issues are unlikely to be resolved any time soon – and this slight dip in prices we’re seeing now is nothing more than seasonal.
There’s been a lot of deal activity taking place recently and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are some big companies out there swimming in cash, circling some of the established groups – and while the Marshall deal may have been a shock, I don’t think it will be the last.
The other listed dealer groups – all of which look incredible value for money – could very soon become targets too.
And if we thought 2020 was a record year for car dealer profits, just you wait until we start reporting on the 2021 numbers. The listed dealer groups have already pointed the way with a number of revised upwards profit predictions throughout the year and I’m sure we’ll see some record years for the best car dealers out there.
And lastly, has the bubble burst for Cazoo? The online used car dealer group made a huge fanfare when it listed on the New York Stock Exchange in the summer, but since then shares have dropped more than 40 per cent. Not quite the success story some were led to believe… I wonder if in 2022 we’ll see more of the same.
Ones to watch in 2022… Carzam, Pendragon, Cazoo, Arnold Clark, Daksh Gupta.