Fleet News

Banks and car-makers in bidding for ACL and Highway

TWO car manufacturers are understood to be preparing bids for ACL autolease and Highway Vehicle Management amid the biggest shake-up in the history of the contract hire industry.

Three companies officially up for sale - ACL autolease and sister company Motorent as well as Highway Vehicle Management - it is likely buyers will be either manufacturer-owned contract hire companies or foreign banks.

Speculation also continues that Hartwell Motor Contracts, which operates more than 8,000 vehicles, is up for sale, although there is no official confirmation.

Meanwhile, industry sources are speculating that debis Car Fleet Management, which operates more than 10,000 vehicles and is believed to have lost out to Lease Plan in the race to buy Dial, is prepared to buy Standard Chartered's leasing subsidiary, ACL autolease, which operates around 54,000 vehicles.

In response, debis managing director, Hubertus Von Zastrow, fuelled the rumours by saying: 'We are keeping our options open and will continue to grow in the UK and Europe both by acquisition and organically.'

Some sources believe General Motors Acceptance Corporation, which already owns Interleasing, is also interested in further acquisitions. Interleasing operates more than 50,000 vehicles on contract hire and a further 20,000 units under fleet management and chief executive, Len Clayton, said: 'There are a lot of companies for sale and we will always record an interest.'

General Universal Services said a search for a buyer for Highway Vehicle Management was continuing, as it revealed annual pre-tax profits of £448 million for the year to March 31, compared to £514 million for the same period last year. Figures for the finance division, which includes Highway, saw pre-tax profits drop from £34.8 million to £33.1 million during the same period.

Managing director, Peter Way, said the leasing firm was still in profit, but added: 'Like all companies in the sector, residual values are an issue.'

And sources also believe that some up-for-sale companies may not be find buyers because, as concern over residual values continues, the asking price may be too high.

Jon Walden, managing director of Lex Vehicle Leasing, Britain's long-time biggest contract hire and leasing company, said: 'Lex Vehicle Leasing traditionally has grown organically, having made only one major acquisition in the last 20 years. I am more interested in getting business in the rest of Europe than the UK.'

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