Story: Cars and the motor industry

Page 5. Motor services

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Car dealers

Ford was one of the first car manufacturers to have a wide network of New Zealand dealers and distributors. There were 27 Ford agents in 1914, 42 the following year, and 82 by 1929. Wellington company Rouse and Hurrell (later the Colonial Motor Company) acquired a Ford agency in 1908, the same year as Kingham and Andrews in Timaru. The Otago and Southland franchise was taken up around 1910 by G. W. Woods & Co., a stock and station agent. In Christchurch, Henry J. Ranger started an agency in the same year, often customising Model Ts with special bodies and upholstery for the local market.

Todd Brothers, who had been Ford dealers in Central Otago and then Dunedin, formed the Todd Motor Company in 1923. They lost the Ford franchise when they widened their brand range, as this breached the Ford Motor Company’s policy of exclusivity. After establishing a head office in Wellington, they secured the rights to distribute Chrysler vehicles, and by 1931 they also distributed Hillmans, Humbers and Sunbeams for the Rootes Group.

Sorry, we’re closed

The operating hours of service stations were temporarily controlled during the oil crises of the 1970s. In 1974, in order to ease the demand for fuel, closures were required from noon on Saturday until Monday morning. In 1979 closures were reintroduced, this time from 7 p.m. on Fridays until 6 a.m. on Mondays.

Service stations

Many car dealerships also carried out repairs and sold petrol. The main New Zealand petrol supplier was the Europa Company, owned by the Todd family. When sold to BP in 1972, it had a 17% market share.

The sale of petrol was regulated for many years through a maximum and minimum price limit. This practice was introduced in the 1930s to protect New Zealand petrol companies against ‘predatory pricing’ by multinationals. The minimum price limit on petrol was removed in 1987.

The first self-service pumps were introduced in 1969. EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer at point of sale) facilities were first trialled in 1985. In the 2000s most service stations were owned by the large multinational fuel suppliers: BP, Shell, Caltex and Mobil. The Australian independent Gull operated in the North Island, and there were a number of independent operators using the Challenge brand (owned by Caltex since 2001).

Second-hand car imports

In the 1990s the previously small number of imported second-hand cars became a flood as government tariffs on importing such vehicles were phased out. From less than 3,000 each year in 1985, imports had grown to 85,000 in 1990, and then surged to more than 150,000 in 2004. Far more second-hand imports were being sold than new cars. Almost all had previously been registered in Japan, and 80% were Japanese makes – Toyotas made up 25%.

Many such cars had travelled only short start-stop distances in cities overseas, and reconditioning was vital as New Zealanders frequently drive long distances on the open road. In the early 2000s Toyota’s Signature Class second-hand vehicles, sourced locally and overseas, were reconditioned in its Thames works.

The surge in imports was one reason for the demise of car assembly in New Zealand. Ironically, Avery Ford Motors, which reconditioned Japanese used cars, became one of the tenants of the vast former Mitsubishi assembly site in Porirua.

Car hire

Garages had cars available for hire even before the First World War. Some ran taxis, had private hire cars (with a driver) and, later, self-drive rental cars. In 1940 there were 564 rental cars registered, a figure that risen to 1,200 by 1950, and nearly 3,000 by 1965.

Hertz, an international car rental company, came to New Zealand when Tasman Rentals (founded in Christchurch in the 1950s) acquired the franchise in 1977. By the 1980s, with the growth of the tourist industry, rental car firms were important buyers of new cars. In 1989 Avis rental car firm bought nearly 600 Chryslers and Mitsubishis from Todd Motors, making it their biggest fleet deal to date.

How to cite this page:

Eric Pawson, 'Cars and the motor industry - Motor services', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 October 2019)

Story by Eric Pawson, published 11 Mar 2010, updated 15 Dec 2014