Motor dealer Lookers said it had outperformed the new car sales market despite consumer confidence being dented by the recent spate of interest rate rises.

Strong demand for Mercedes, Vauxhall and specialist car brands helped the firm drive home a six per cent increase in like-for-like new car sales against a wider market performance of just two per cent.

The Manchester-headquartered group delivered forecast-beating interim pretax profits of £18.1 million, up 41 per cent on the same period last year and ahead of the £17.5 million expected by analysts.

Lookers, which has Vauxhall dealerships in Selly Oak, Yardley and Star City in Birmingham, said the second half of the year had also got off to a good start, with the order book for September - traditionally the group's second best month for car sales - ahead of last year.

Forward sales of new luxury car models such as the Aston Martin DBS, the Bentley Brooklands and the Maserati Gran Turismo, were also particularly strong.

Chief executive Ken Surgenor said the five rate rises since last August had seen costs soar by 28 per cent, while also knocking consumer confidence.

But he added the group's "broad-based business model" would help it offset any negative impact.

"We remain confident for the outlook of the remainder of 2007," he said.

"I am delighted to report that Lookers has continued to outperform the market and achieved record results for the period, in line with expectations."

Across the volume franchises, Vauxhall saw a good start to the year benefiting from the extensive refurbishment programme.

Lookers said the Premier Automotive Group dealerships were performing well, particularly those with Land Rover and Jaguar in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The South-east dealerships had been more challenging, Lookers said, while the Volvo franchise had performed below expectations.

An expanded after-sales operation has also given the business a boost amid the wider market troubles, with its parts distribution business FPS, bought in 2004, and dry braking group Apec, acquired in 2005, seeing a ten per cent increase in operating profits.

The company said it planned to continue growing the after-sales division, having already recently expanded the arm with the £3 million acquisition of BTN Turbo Charger Service in May.

Lookers, which also owns the Charles Hurst dealership, said its used car sales business suffered losses after "management issues" within the division, although it stressed these have since been addressed and expects a better second half of the year.

Its 25 Ford luxury brand dealerships, covering the Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo marques, performed well in most areas, except the South-east, where the Volvo franchise saw sales "well below" management expectations.

Lookers, which runs 111 franchises across 28 brands in the UK, reported turnover up 21 per cent at £878.9 million in the six months to June 30.

On an adjusted basis, pretax profits stood six per cent higher from a revised £17 million recorded in the 2006 half-year period.

The results come in stark contrast to rival car dealership group Pendragon, which last month posted a drop in performance, with adjusted pretax profits down from £51.5 million to £33.5 million in the six months to June 30.