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DEALERS' eyes are set on the next moves of chief executive Trevor Finn from his Power List poll position, says Stephen Briers, editor of AM.

'In the first year, it was Sir Peter Vardy; last year, it was RMI chief executive Matthew Carrington. This year, Trevor Finn, chief executive at Pendragon, tops the AM Power List – the definitive guide to the automotive industry's most influential people.

In the two years since Automotive Management and AutoTrade were merged and relaunched as AM, plenty has happened in the industry. We've been through block exemption – to some the biggest change ever to happen to the automotive industry – we've had a raft of new legislation, and we've seen some familiar faces sold, collapsed or merged. In retrospect, the AM Power List reflects much of this. But how powerful and what kind of impact have the people listed actually had?

Of the top 10 in 2002, just three are in this year's top 10: Sir Peter Vardy, Gordon Brown and Trevor Finn and they have had a major impact on the industry. Brown's economic policies have ensured low interest rates, which have encouraged high borrowing and strong new car sales, while his company car tax reforms have seen sales volumes to fleets fall by around 250,000 a year; Finn is the leading industry consolidator, closely followed by Sir Peter.

Out of the top 10, however, are Wolfgang Reitzle, who last year swapped Ford's Premier Automotive Group for fork-lift trucks; Tony Bramall, who sold out in February to Pendragon; Jeremy Clarkson, who has slipped down the list; Vauxhall MD Kevin Wale, now at No 11; Sir Arnold Clark, now 16th and Andy Harrison, Lex chief executive, drops out the list after Lex sold most of its automotive interests.

This year the key movers include Earl Hesterberg, the Ford of Europe vice- president of sales and marketing at No 2, who is spearheading Ford's move into automotive retail. He is having as big an impact as Dermot Kelly, who, placed second last year, created shockwaves when reorganising the Mercedes-Benz network taking control of the three biggest metropolitan areas, London, Birmingham and Manchester, in-house. His place in the top 10 is taken by Geoff Brady, the man charged with ensuring that DaimlerChrysler UK Retail succeeds.

More women make this year's list (six, one more than 2002). To name two, AM personality of the year and IMI chief executive Sarah Sillars is at No 15 and Patricia Richards, Automotive Skills CEO is in 19th place.

Others to look out for are John Vickers, director-general at the Office of Fair Trading, who becomes responsible for policing and enforcing the revised block exemption rules in the UK, and Peter Johnson, who heads Inchcape plc. He is promising expansion of Inchcape Retail this year which will focus attention again at the top of the AM100.

And heading that list is Trevor Finn. He has defied some critics by building a group purely on acquisition.

It's a policy that has seen Pendragon acquire Evans Halshaw, Lex and this year CD Bramall. Now twice the size of its nearest competitor, Pendragon is being watched by every car dealer. They want to know how Finn's relationships will change with carmakers – who holds the upper hand in negotiations? What happens next? Will sites become available as Finn offloads some of the more undesirable outlets?

Despite the size of the group – around £3.5bn – Pendragon still accounts for less than 6% of new car sales; there's plenty of scope left yet.'

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