National Express chief takes the wheel at Lookers

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The Independent Online

Lookers, the Manchester-based car dealership which fought off a hostile takeover bid from the rival dealer Pendragon earlier this year, appointed Phil White, the outgoing chief executive of National Express, as its new chairman yesterday.

Mr White, who steps down from National Express next week after a decade at the helm of the bus and rail group, replaces Fred Maguire, whose resignation from Lookers was announced in May.

His appointment came as Lookers revealed that its defence against the unwelcome bid from Pendragon had cost the company £4m in advisory fees.

However, Lookers delivered on the promises made at the time of the contested takeover, reporting a 55 per cent increase in underlying pre-tax profits for the first half of the year to £17m.

The chief executive, Ken Surgenor, added that the company was on course to meet its profit forecast for the full year of not less than £25.1m - one of the lynchpins of its successful defence against Pendragon.

The improvement in first-half profits was driven in part by increased sales of second-hand cars and the growth in Lookers' parts business, which is more profitable than the sale of new cars.

Lookers, which represents 26 brands and operates from 101 franchised dealerships, saw its sales of new cars rise 5 per cent in the six-month period compared with a 4 per cent decline in the overall market.

Last week it bought 10 dealerships from H R Owen in the South-east, including four Mercedes Benz showrooms, for £21m.

Lookers shares slipped 2.5p to close at 162.5p. But Mr Surgenor said shareholders today were still 33 per cent better off than they would have been had they accepted Pendragon's all-share offer in March.