The service, known as Virgin Cars, was launched on Monday with Branson and the company's chairman and chief executive officer, Ian Lancaster, promising average savings on retail transaction prices of 17% with cars sourced from the Continent with a choice of 14 manufacturers.
With servicing arrangements tied in with PHH Vehicle Management, Virgin is claiming savings of up to 30% on manufacturers' new car prices are possible.
Virgin Cars allows customers to chose a car and specification on-line at www.virgin.com/cars. Ordering is via the website or through a telephone call centre. The operation will arrange for vehicles to be serviced at a nationwide network of 1,500 franchised dealer service centres, taking the car from the owner and returning it once the work has been completed. The administration and invoicing for servicing will be carried out through PHH as part of a Virgin '@ Your Service' sales package.
Virgin also offers a 'key-for-key' part exchange service, using CAP residual values, and will dispose of cars either online or via auction. It also provides loans through Alliance and Leicester, AA roadside assistance and Car Care Plan warranties to boost one-year manufacturer-backed warranties to three years.
The imported cars are all UK spec and right-hand drive. Lancaster said he expected Virgin Cars to sell 24,000 vehicles in the next 12 months with potential to sell three times that number in the second year of business.
He said: 'Virgin Cars offers not only the price until now only enjoyed by the company car market, but also the levels of service. Pressures from increasing levels of company car taxation and price differences between new cars in this country and Europe will spell the end of the fleet car as we know it.'
But Lancaster also said that while Virgin Cars was aimed at the retail buyer it was ready to do fleet business, if approached by an interested company.
On the tie-up with PHH, he said: 'We've negotiated special rates for car servicing which were previously only available to the biggest fleets.' Virgin expects service prices to be 15% less than normal retail charges.
Andrew Queen, PHH business development manager, said at the launch: 'Virgin Cars will not take the place of the company car, but we have been aware there maybe a decline in its significance and therefore have been looking for an opportunity to get into internet-based retail business and offering the expertise we have in fleet.'