But Trevor Finn, chief executive, said buyers for more expensive cars were returning. Sales of Mercedes, in particular, have recovered spectacularly with a sustained rise of 40 per cent over the past four months, although that has been distorted by the launch of the C-class replacement for the bottom-of-the- range 190.
Mr Finn said the group was now focusing more on volume manufacturers, having established a strong presence in the luxury car market. 'We picked up franchises and dealerships during the recession when there was less competition for them,' he said. 'Now the market is recovering, we will be unwilling to pay unrealistic prices.
'We believe we've got the potential in our network now to provide real growth in earnings, although we will of course continue to pick up dealerships and franchises here and there.'
Paddy Barrett, analyst at Albert E Sharp, said: 'The results, as expected, were a great set of figures. They have done well by increasing their spread of dealerships and franchises during the recession and there is a lot of potential for them to advance strongly.'