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 in 1915, and 82 by 1929. Wellington company Rouse and Hurrell (later the Colonial Motor Company) and Kingham and Andrews in Timaru acquired Ford agencies in 1908. 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 1910, often customising Model Ts for the local market with special bodies and upholstery.
Todd Brothers, who had been Ford dealers in West Otago and then Dunedin, formed the Todd Motor Company in 1923. They lost the Ford franchise when they widened their brand range, breaching the Ford Motor Company’s policy of exclusivity. After establishing a head office in Wellington, they secured the right to distribute Chrysler vehicles, and by 1931 they also distributed Hillmans, Humbers and Sunbeams for the Rootes Group.
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The operating hours of service stations were temporarily controlled during the oil crises of the 1970s. In 1974, in order to reduce 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 Friday until 6 a.m. on Monday.
Many car dealerships also carried out repairs and sold petrol. The largest 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 maximum and minimum prices. 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 a number of independent operators used 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 tariffs on such imports were phased out. From less than 3,000 each year in 1985, imports had grown to 85,000 in 1990, and surged to more than 150,000 in 2004. Far more second-hand imports than new cars were being sold. Almost all had previously been registered in Japan, and 80% were Japanese makes – Toyotas made up 25%.
Many such cars had made only short stop-start journeys in cities, 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. Avery Ford Motors, which reconditioned Japanese used cars, became one of the tenants of the former Mitsubishi assembly site in Porirua.
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 the Avis rental car firm bought nearly 600 Chryslers and Mitsubishis from Todd Motors, their biggest fleet deal to date.