AXA is set to make a dramatic push to grow its private motor book in a bid to catapult it back into the top flight of UK motor insurers.

Insurance Times understands that the insurer is set to unveil plans later this year that it hopes will propel it from its top 20 position into the top five insurers in the private motor market.

AXA distribution director Mark Cliff told Insurance Times: "We have slipped down [the ranks] in motor as we have had to sort out our book. We are now in a position to grow."

A source close to AXA said the insurer would be focusing on acquisitions "in some form".

He suggested the company might be looking to do replicate the capacity deal agreed with PBS Holdings in May last year.

A spokesman for the insurer said he could not reveal the precise details of the strategy but stressed it would not be simply based on rate cutting.

"We will not forego profit in pursuit of volume," he said, adding that details "would flow through at a later date".

Under the arrangement, AXA provided £20m of commercial capacity through a delegated authority.

In 2003, AXA was the seventh largest UK motor insurer, writing gross written premiums of more than £424m. Since then, it has dropped down the league table, not least due to the sale of the AXA Direct business to RAC. AXA Direct received £94m of motor premium in 2003. In 2004, AXA motor book was worth £322m in net written premiums.

The book also performed poorly, achieving operating ratio of 116% and 120% in 2002 and 2003, although it improved to 102.4% in 2004. In September last year AXA chief executive said that its motor book had now "stabilised" and was ready for growth.