Blog : Dying dealers – where do they go from here?

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

Car dealers – do they need to be huge emporiums of glass and glitz?

Clive Goldthorp’s recent article about the closure of his local Honda dealer spurred me on to think about the state of play in general with regard not just fringe marque dealers, but the volume outlets too. Sadly, the closure of Clive’s local agent comes as no real shock to me partly because of the difficult times presently and partly owing to the nature of the product.

Honda once commanded an enviable brand loyalty, only coming behind the likes of Rolls Royce and BMW, simply because they nailed together impressive, technology-based cars which functioned and performed with efficiency and steadfast reliability.

This is, quite simply, much of the reason why Honda became the darling of the affluent blue rinse motorist or the better class minicab operation. I knew of a taxi operator in Northampton who ran a brace of Rover 620 (the Honda Accord in tweed) models on airport work and both covered 45,000 miles per annum without so  much as a drop of oil between servicing.

However, I knew that Honda was struggling to sell in decent numbers when I was handed over my Civic i-CDTi as a company steed a little while ago. Working from home, I was asked to visit my own local dealer with a view to opening a servicing account.

My car was sourced from a dealer in Kent who supplied all the cars for the Department Managers and my then employers chose Honda following a disastrous experience with a fleet of 1.9 diesel Astras and Vectras. I asked my dealer in Gatwick to quote for servicing in accordance with requirements not only for them to quote figures that were higher than the supplying dealer by some margin, but also to bombard my Sales Director with prospect calls and mail shots for new vehicles. ‘Fine tune the servicing deal and we may consider purchasing in the future’, came my gaffer’s retort. They didn’t, but the prospect calls kept coming through.

The problem with Honda, though, is more than just inconsistent dealers – hardly anyone bought the NSX and no one bought the Legend. Honda (UK) sells a good few Jazz models and ‘that’s yer whack’, as they say. The new Civic (though not as you’d know it) is so expensive that it’s almost laughable, whilst the Accord, despite how well they function, fails to show on the list of fleet operators or register in the minds of Joe Punter in anywhere near the numbers Honda hoped for and actually deserve. Another major factor that hampers them is the size of the dealers.

When I was still at school, I worked part-time with Mill Garages Honda in Darlington. The dealer was a small, yet smart-looking affair, with just three salesmen – and that sufficed. Today, if I was to take a drive to ‘er indoors father’s in Crewe, the Honda dealer you pass on the way into town is simply colossal – just WHO exactly is paying for all that glass and neon?

Again, another major Honda stumbling block is the customer base. There is a good friend of my very elderly nextdoor neighbour who purchased a new Jazz last year, but I will bet my last Rolo that her next vehicle will be a mobility scooter or a hearse – many loyal Honda drivers own the cars ’til either it – or they – simply drop.

Many Saab dealers continued to operate from oversized premises despite the brand slowly dying for years.

Don’t misread this as a Honda bashing blog – it’s not, the Civic is a smashing car if you can live with the USS Enterprise styling and knobbly ride. The 2.2 diesel is so rapid and torquey that it’s almost silly but would I dip into my pants and buy a new Civic? Well, sadly, no I would not. The problem with the motor trade – not just at Honda but with other niche brands and volume makers alike is, in fact, the dealers themselves and their rock solid refusal to adapt to market forces or changes. The future I believe, is in manufacturer-owned or operated outlets which have no allegiance to greedy corporate shareholders.

Mercedes-Benz operates this system and it works very well while even the South Koreans had a play with the format. Take, for example, Daewoo – with a little bit more initial thought and planning in aftersales, that could have been a winning idea. They had their own ‘Motor Shows’ which were usually situated on busy retail parks and stocked with smart-looking and well-presented motors for your delectation with Sales Advisers on a set salary opposed to commission- hungry staff hell bent on bumping up your finance payments or offering paint/fabric protection. MG Rover also operated a sprinkling of outlets using that business model and they worked well – and I speak from experience, too!

I once (and I swear this is true) was offered a position with a local Peugeot dealership which was then a little while back, and still is now, on its backside. Asking during the interview how many units they were registering, I almost shuddered at the reply so I asked why they were looking to have another chick in the nest, as t’wer. The answer was equally as worrying – they wanted to take on an experienced sales guy to ‘put a rocket’ up the others. Now, I applaud this tactic when times are good because it works and I also have first-hand experience of that, but currently? Utter stupidity…

Huge glass and neon dream palaces cost a fortune in rates, wages and other overheads and the big dealer groups simply blame the staff on the pitch when times get hard and go into a recruitment frenzy – they never ever learn. My take on the current situation, then, is simple: there need to be more dealers operated by the manufacturers and not by middle men – that will make the cars more affordable and the dealerships more profitable and reputable. Oh, and if times are hard, you reduce your headcount – each typical salesman in a volume dealer costs around £10,000-£12,000 yearly before he even sells a car.

Who cares if the local new car showroom resembles Abu Dhabi in terms of size and number of light bulbs? This is where the savings need to be made if dealers are to survive in this seemingly never-ending crunch. Multi-branch dealer groups and fringe brand outlets with oversized premises only have themselves to blame.

Expensive premises and high staff numbers maybe fine for multi-franchise dealers. However, this can also stifle local competition.

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

59 Comments

  1. I only have a little experience of main dealers and most recently my local family run Ford outfit. I got locked out of my 12 year old Mondeo and popped into the service desk for some advice. The Service Manager, the only one there and wearing a blue pinstriped suit under his Ford WRC jacket, asked to see my key. I gave it to him and explained that is the only one I have. He told me that it was too worn to work and took it out the back glaring at it to work out the numbers. He and a lacky fiddled with it for a good 20 minutes before asking if it works in the ignition. I confirmed it did and SM marched back out with a bit more intent in his step. He came back 10 minutes later with the metal bit of a key that should have plugged into a central locking fob and said, ”Try that, if it don’t work the lock is knackered”. I gave him the customary ”How much d’I owe yer” and he shook his head. ”We’ve had a box of them out the back for years and still have too many, no charge”. I can understand not charging me for the key but I clogged two paid men up for half an hour and that costs.

    The point is that its not just the manufacturers that need to do something. I have it on good authority that this Ford dealer has been in the same location and family since it opened in the 1960’s. They understand that people vote with their feet and know that should I ever be in the market for a new or nearly new Ford motorcar, they are the ones I shall go to and I have no doubt the transaction will take place over a brew and a chat about something other than buying the car.

  2. Adapt or die.Williams BMW in Rochdale sell 12 BMW’s a week,week in,week out and thats without the MINI franchise bolted on,so i would imagine its in its 30’s combined.Walking through the dealership you would be forgiven for thinking you was in Dubai buying Bvlgari watches etc,internet cafe,boutique cup cakes fresh daily etc etc.
    So what?you may ask,but they sell aggressively all over the country,that coupled with an hourly rate of £130 an hour probably keeps the place going.The used cars? a man goes round every prepared car with white cotton gloves on and wipes his hands under the wheel arch rim-and woe betide a vestige of dirt found,all cars are prepped to perfection-the workshop invoices sales dept for every car they prepare for sale.I think its the service folk recieve that counts.

  3. Skoda are going the way of ‘big shiny dealers’ on multi franchise sites. The small family owned dealer is all but gone. Only one remains in this area, and even though it is small, it’s a multi franchise place with both Renner & Dacia, plus a large used car lot about 200 yds down the road that has about 50 cars & vans on it. In West & North Yorkshire, Skoda is now under the control of the Keith family, who own all but 1 dealer.

  4. Dare I say that the rise of the Internet has helped to take car sales from dealers too. Little overheads and decent discounts help to drive punters to the PC.

  5. What about JCT600? they have every marque and a whole road of showrooms in leeds.Its strange sometimes with these dealers.

  6. Tordoff’s as they used to be known are a massive company, with a huge leasing side. I’ve seen a good half a dozen cars round here with JCT fleet plates on recent reg’s. I believe they also have a hand in Fourways Coaches (legal name is Tordoff Transport), and they are just down the road from the main HQ & dealership. According to Wiki, they have 48 dealerships throughout Yorkshire. Turnover is quoted at £450 million. They have franchises for all the major uber brands too, such as Porsche, Bentley, Ferrari…….

  7. There was a popular myth a few years ago that dealers were finished, and new cars would be bought on the internet or from supermarkets. The EU loved it and tried to kill off the whole franchised dealer system – but failed.

    Unfortunately for those who have zero experience of managing a dealership, they did not understand what dealers are for. They deal. They handle the used car trade-in, the warranty claims, the finance and insurance, the parts and service and they also risk their own money when the manufacturer starts to produce dogs or lemons, as they all do from time to time.’ Manufacturers on the whole don’t want to get involved in retail sales unless they have no other choice.

    As with many complex businesses, it’s easy to criticise but not so simple to do it yourself.

  8. I would also add in the useless advertising as a factor in Honda’s flagging fortunes. They trumpet the company rather than the products, which is why I can’t for the life of me picture any of Honda’s current range in my head. Remember all those (albeit beautifully made) adverts with the guy in the different Honda models over the years culminating in the hot air balloon – kind of ironic in that they are making the same errors that Austin Rover made in the mid 1980s – ‘Now We’re Motoring’- telling us about the company rather than the cars themselves.

  9. Sometimes I think we have a disease in this country when it comes to management. The same kind of flawed thinking that many dealers seem to operate under (excaserbated by car companies themselves) seems to be the same kind of head-in-the-sand attitude that saw the death of the British motorcycle industry, then spread to the ‘genius’ product planners of BMC/BL in the late 60s/ early 70s.

    Currently it is affecting breweries, who (along with supermarket competition) are overseeing the death of that great British institution- the Public House. It is, as Mike Humble indicates here and elsewhere, a kind of ‘Nero fiddling’ approach and refusal to adapt to the prevailing market conditions.

    Oh well, if that round peg won’t fit that square hole, get the little guys to hit it harder.

  10. Our family bought some half dozen Peugeots from a small local dealer, the old guy who owned it used to wonder around polishing the stock and keeping an eye on the children (sales team) well into his 80’s.

    Most importantly he cared about what he sold, having been a Roots group dealer and stuck with the brand through Chrysler and Talbot years, to be rewarded with the Peugeot class leading products of the 80’s and 90’s.

    Sadly dealer got swallowed up into a major corporate group and now sells Skoda as well as both PSA brands. The quality of service declined (along with the PSA product) and so went our families business with none of us now driving Peug’s.

    Recently I got asked why I took my mother over a dozen miles to buy a new Panda when she had a shiny new Fiat dealer from one of the big dealer chains virtually next door. The reason was simple, the small local dealer got her business because they had been selling Fiats since 1974, having lost out in the British Leyland dealer restructures. My reasoning being that if a dealer can survive that long in a small town selling Fiats, with all their product ups and downs of the last 4 decades they must care about the Fiat brand and the service they offer their customers.

    I am glad to say that the service she has received reflects my assumptions.

  11. My dad owned the austin rover dealership in richmond north yorkshire from the early 70s till we sold up in the early 90s, we wanted to sell suzuki’s along side our austin rover franchise, austin rover told us that if we did they would take the franchise off us so that put paid to that idea back then, nowadays duel franchise seem to be the norm.

  12. A new model needs to be found. Research by Honda suggests that 77% of women don’t like entering showrooms and don’t find the sales experience enjoyable. As the larger groups take over it is harder to get good customer service. Manufacturers are thinking how to address this but it is not an easy fix. You are trying to replicate that comes naturally to a family owned business. The overheads of these glass emporiums are also massive!!

  13. This is all good stuff. A few more points:

    1. I understand Volvo ditched Stratstone, a nasty corporate. In Birmingham this meant moving to a family-owned business in the same premises which was a wholly more pleasant experience.

    2. My wife bought her first car this year. It was interesting to see how different dealers treated her. Some deferred to me and treated her as a nobody while others (well one, actually) spke to her properly and only talked to me if there was something she wasn’t sure about. You know where she bought her car from.

  14. Good appropriate thoughts from Mike. In the 1960’s my father bought his car from a joint Rootes/Vauxhall dealer. Back then most dealers were single brand only, before the now popular multi franchises developed.

    Regards the Accord, it’s a shame the next version may not be sold here. I had a company one a few years ago and my Father & Brother owned the original and MK2 Hatchbacks in the late 70s / 80s – fine cars all of them. I guess competition from the likes of GM, Ford, Mazda & VW is too much in this sector?

  15. @17 It seems more or less official that the next Accord wont be offered here.

    It is built in Japan and too expensive to import and sell at a profitable price.

    Honda also want to concentrate on their UK output, so I’ve read. This includes small hatches / SUVs of Jazz, Civic, CRV.

    Toyota have quietly dropped the saloon Avensis – leaving only the estate. Subaru did this a while back too, with the Legacy.

    I’ve created a forum post on the death of the D segment.

    Where the Japanese are abandoning, the Koreans are taking the baton, with the i40 (which seemed to have a lot of favourable opinion on AROnline) and Optima.

  16. It’s a shame the D segment is dead.

    I myself quite fancy a new shape accord tourer EX in Milano Red with the petrol engine.

    Has to be a good car.

    No electronic handbrake and good japanese build quality.

    Nice car

  17. I’m not so sure about Honda’s place in the market. My father’s Jazz, as a year old demonstrator, cost about the same as my new C3 Airdream+, and is less comfortable, less well equipped, less economical and really no better in terms of build quality. Maintained well, the C3 should last, maintained badly, the Jazz won’t – in fact the paint on the arches is remarkably thin, I can see that being a car which will look tatty when it gets older.

    Their reputation is strong, but I don’t see a stand-out model in the range. The Accord was on my radar in 2008; no automatic diesel, IIRC – and the diesel wasn’t that great. I glanced at the Legend, I believe nearing the end of its life in the UK, and was unimpressed when compared to the XF/C6.

    So whilst they’re not making bad cars, I can’t see a reason to survive in the UK without the small, family dealers that make the affluent and older demographic feel valued, confident and safe spending their money. And I suspect it is there, rather than the D-segment or any other area, that the Korean franchises are making the real gains with private buyers.

  18. @18 – I didn’t realise that Toyota have dropped the Avensis saloon too, though I must admit I dont see many on our roads anyway. You’re right though, the Korean cars seem to be filling that segment. The latest Hyundai’s & KIA’s are quite appealing to look at, which they were not a few years back.

  19. If the disdain that the K.W.Kier, MD Honda UK treats me concerning the fault on my Civic, i.e. he will NOT explain why he refuses to rectify, is characteristic of Honda, then I can’t help feeling Honda is finished in this country.
    A Fabia Mk1 diesel is much more developed in almost every respect.

  20. Honda should have jumped back into bed with the Pheonix 4 when they had the change, it probably would have worked and would have been predominantly on Hondas terms. The problem with Japanese cars is that many of them are either too blingy and silly like the accord, or they are boring. I cant help thinking that Honda, Nissan and Mitzubishi might dissapear from the market, when the Chinese (and some Indian) cars start to get a stonger hold. the Korens are building good cars now. One moe thing about Hondas (I had 3 overabout 7 years) is they in my oppinion arent anymore relibale than the Rover 827(I had for 5 years) or the Discovery(which I had for 8 years). Apparently they have got any more relible, because, like LR they keep adding mor stuff to the cars. once you start looking at Premium priced Honda then youre into the pricing similar to entry level BMW / Jaguar etc, I would go BMW / Jaguar / Subaru I think depending what I actually needed. But nicely trimmed uncomplicated and easy to use Rover (Honda) would still make sense I think.

  21. one more thing I drove a honda civic about 4 years ago (we got an invitation to test drive and morning tea). We took it for a drive. it was quite a nice car except for two things. the kids couldnt see out the windows, and the road noise was horrendous. It might have been tyre choice may be but to me it was unbearable. I cant help thinking that rover would ahve chosen some good sticky tyres AND also got rid of the road noise (the Rover 25 is a nice quite car to ride in, much nicer than a 2007 Ford Fiesta even)

  22. Some of the reasons the Accord hasn’t sold are that it is extremely bland, has no image and it has grown in size to the point of irrelevance in the market.

  23. The Accord range starts at over £21k, that is too dear to be competitive.
    The Jazz is too expensive too and I predict Hondas sales will be hit hard when Dacia arrive, the Sandero is nearly half the price of a Jazz, an elderly driver living on inflation hit savings will simply go there instead.
    In fairness Toyotas line up is little better too. Perhaps Honda were the fools not to tie up with Rover, everything since the previous generation Accord and S2000 has Been too odd looking to sell here. Honda got more from Rover than they dare to admit…

  24. Hondas are good cars and the Civic in the last two incarnations has looked space age, but they seem to have gone done the BMW route of charging over the odds for their products.
    Take for instance the Jazz, reliable, economical and holds its value well, but over 11 grand for the basic model with no aircon, that’s a bit much, considering you can get a fully specced Suzuki Swift for the same money and the basic model undercuts the Jazz by over two grand and has the same attributes, but is more fun to drive and looks more exciting. Also as has been pointed out, once Dacia start selling the Sandero, the elderly Jazz market could go there.

  25. Don’t forget that the next generation Jazz won’t be built in the UK. The UK will be building the Civic, Civic Tourer and CR-V, as well as a small crossover vehicle to take up the slack of the Jazz when the next gen car arrives.

  26. Sadly with the advent of the double edged sword of the internet it has made it much easier for any prospective buyer to hunt around for “The Best Deal”without trying to hard and within the comfort of their own home.
    This has reduced the dealer margins even more as many struggle to compete and will sell a car at cost in the hope that purchasers will return for servicing, which is the most profittable part of a garage that is well set up.
    Even then with the block exemption ruling more and more customers are using non franchised dealer and repairers to service their vehicles when due so again hitting the dealers pockets but keeping the warranty valid.
    With increases in rates, fuel and general running costs as well as a shortage of stock for used car sites it has become more and more difficult to retain decent profits and sometimes only to break even.
    Many small dealers are closing with the sites being re developed into residential or becoming Car Washes manned mainly by eastern european individuals!.

  27. Toyota dropped a bollock by not offering a five-door version of the Avensis (same with Honda when they didn’t replace the five door Accord, they just went with rebadging one of their Acura models from the States). How many saloon Insignias and Mondeos do you see running about? Stupid attempt to move “upmarket” but people will (rightly or wrongly) pick Audi or BMW over japmobiles.

  28. The 5 door previous Avensis did seem to sell well.
    The current saloon looks like it could easily be a fastback hatch.
    Strange decision indeed. Vauxhall and Ford quietly dropped the 4 door Insignia and Mondeo. (Though they do sell well in the RoI)

    Honda are maybe looking enviously at Nissan, who replaced the Almera and Primera with the Qashcow SUV, to the annoyance of other car park users.

  29. @32… Yes there are Qashqai’s everywhere you look and Juke’s too. I can’t ever recall seeing a 4 door Insignia saloon (or current Mondeo 4 dr) for that matter. The Hatch’s are more practical anyway and these days still possess a saloon profile.

  30. I hadn’t realised the latest Avensis wasn’t available as a hatchback, considering a fair amount of the previous generation were sold as hatchbacks.

    Didn’t Honda introduce a SUV crossover sometime in the late 1990s, before they really became popular?

    I can’t remember the model name but Top Gear did a roadtest & seemed impressed by it.

  31. Honda had a dream ticket for the taking when MGR went down. Most Rover owners knew the score- they knew their beloved cars were built on Honda platforms and would have bought Honda if the cars had been inspiring and classy but they aren’t.

    Honda could and should have learnt the art of building and selling cars in Britain from Rover but they didn’t. Compare the early 90’s Accord against the 600 no comparison in desirability, same went for the Concerto against the R8.

    Building a reliable vehicle is not enough, first impressions are vital in interesting the punter and Honda’s offerings are just plain boring.

  32. The HR-V was a superb vehicle – fun, good to drive, beautifully engineered… Why didn’t they replace it? The success of the Evoque shows maybe that the HR-V was simply ahead of its time.

  33. I presume the demise of many dealerships in the UK is for some of the same reasons in the USA. The 2008 financial crises gave all brands a chance to push out marginal, small, poorly capitalized, poorly located, famiily owned dealerships, often reluctant to do mandated redoes of facilities, to reduce the overall number of dealership, so remaining ones sold more each. Having fewer dealerships saves carmakers many millions in local ad cost subsidies, administration costs, and lower costs per car for the dealerhsips and the carmakers. As Toyota, Nissan and Honda entered markets, they started off and continued to grow, they didn’t open up as many dealerships as there sales went up, while established brands were stuck with franchise agreements that made it difficut to cut them.
    Many car dealerships owned by families vs corporate groups, as with many ‘small’ businesses, may not have the younger family generation wanting to go into the auto retail business with it’s ups and downs and hassles so either sell out to the groups or end the dealership. Many brands too have not kept up with the competition as to quality, pricing, service demands thus affecting dealerships.

  34. I think the web has played its part to a certain extent in the demise of small dealerships whereby the large groups can do “loss leaders” on the web,deliver anywhere and have the capacity to absorb small margins,of course this is not at the core of situation but the small outfits are certainly being squeezed until thier pips squeek-all at the expense of a good customer service.

  35. Mercedes Benz operate their own dealerships in London, Birmongham and Manchester. Others are by big partners, Sytner, Inchcape etc

  36. I don’t know about the current Accord, but the previous one was an excellent car and I used them as hire cars several times. It was certainly classy and quick.

    And my father went over to Honda when he stopped buying Rover Group cars, and I’m sure he’s not the only one who made that change.

  37. Here in NZ, Honda own the dealerships in the larger cities, and their servicing charges are surprisingly reasonable. They have a no-haggle pricing policy, so don’t offer discounts (but do offer higher trade-in prices for your old Honda), and their second-hand prices hold up better than most other brands.

    They source cars from Thailand, so that keeps prices more competitive. Despite that, the Jazz is priced on a par with Fiesta (also Thai assembled) and Polo.

  38. When I was in the states recently, adverts for Honda and Toyota seemed to direct people to huge dealers such as Honda Gallery (which strangely sponsored the news, I thought it was an art gallery which itself was sponsored by Honda).

    Last time I took my Honda to get work done at the dealer (simply taking off the locking nuts as the seller forgot to give me a key for them!) the labour prices were surprisingly reasonable. They said that it was for older Hondas they performed 1/2 price labour.
    Good idea, gets them proper dealer service and is about the same as a backstreet garage.

  39. That low-price labour was also offered by Toyota when I took my Sera and MR2 to Border Toyota in St. Boswells. I thought it was an excellent way to get me looking at new Toyotas.

    But then I can’t praise that dealer enough. Through my involvement in the Sera club and the parts manager’s extremely helpful attitude, Border Toyota probably made Sera ownership in the UK much less painful overall – they gave me prices that shattered the “imported parts” nonsense being asked when I got into the cars and I suspect, got more main dealers on board when people could go in with part numbers and say that Toyota’s logistics would happily supply the parts.

    I won’t forget. If Toyota ever make a car I want, and they’re still trading, I’ll go back to Border Toyota in St. Boswells and buy one even if I live next door to a local dealer.

  40. The Sera is an interesting little coupe!
    Nice to know that some Toyota dealers will work on imports (though this is probably thanks to shared componentry with the Paseo and Starlet).
    There was an anecdote somewhere in the comments, someone got thrown out of a Mazda dealer for turning up in an imported MX5…

  41. Seras are lovely, and to be fair to the club and Toyota, mechanical parts were never an issue because as you state, they share a lot with the Paseo and Starlet. It was bodywork, electrical and of course, the hardware for those doors that I discovered was available and reasonably priced.

    My black Sera was the only one I have ever seen that would open the doors correctly, as designed – release handle, light pressure on door with elbow just to move it a couple of inches, then it lifts itself, slowing for the final inch or so of travel. I rebuilt the entire mechanism including the unusual “balancer” and crucial pivot connection.

  42. Wow, nice mechanism!
    Puts me in mind of the DeLoreans.
    Must be handy in car parks, with my coupe it has big long doors therefore meaning that if a nissan qashcow parks alongside, getting in and out becomes a contortionists act.

    I had a car spotters book as a youngster, the Sera was mentioned but there was a note that it didn’t get type approval in some countries because of the glass roof.

    I thought the 100 cabrio roof was remote control.

    And a Ro80! Last time I saw one of those was in the transport museum! (Alongside aforementioned DeLorean…)

  43. @Will M that was me.

    It was the long closed Hill’s Mazda on the Holywood Road in Belfast; it was about 1998, and popped in for some part, so long ago I can’t remember what it was. Was basically told my car wasn’t welcome as imports were killing their business and to get out. I suppose I have had the last laugh as I still own the car today 14 years later.

    Back then the Mazda range was very bland, you had the 121 which was a rebadged MK4 Fiesta (fine car though it was), the 323, the 626 and the MX5. I suspect the MX5 was a real cash cow for them, when I got the car in 1997 a 1991 UK Mazda MX5 like my Eunos was about £11000 to buy whereas I bought mine for £7000. They probably would have seen me as a lost sale, but in fact I wouldn’t have been able to afford a UK car at that price anyway. It’s a bit like how the BPI sees a downloaded album as a lost CD sale; it doesn’t really work like that.

    I also got my car described as an “old bucket of bolts” by the Mazda dealer in Bangor but I think he was just pulling my leg. Well I hope he was.

    I still have hassle getting parts from Lindsay Mazda for it, first thing the do is ask for a VIN Code and the Japanese VIN Codes are totally different and not on their system. Then much tutting and rolling of eyes and “it may not fit and if it does you can’t return it”.

    I’m also in the MX5 Owners Club and back in the late 1990’s Mazda UK offered cash injection to the club if they banned the import owners, it was put to the vote and rejected.

    Did you ever hear the story why Quentin Wilson hated Japanese Imports so much and would trot out his tired “It probably was wrapped around a bus shelter in Tokyo” cliché any chance he got? It was because Anna Ryder Richardson accidently bought an import and threw a strop when she found out, and moaned to Quentin about it. Perhaps it would have helped if Anna looked at the bloody badges on the car before she bought it.

  44. Our local Mercedes dealer (in Perth) has just been taken over by the dreaded Mr Clark. Wonder how long it will take for it to get revoked….

  45. @Jonathan McCormack

    Hills Mazda – Is that where the BP and John Dorys is now?

    I remember the 121, they used the mk5 ‘frowny face’ and the mk6 ‘new edge’ Fiestas.
    323s used to be cracking looking cars, I remember my aunt had the popup lights model, and a friend had the one after that had pillarless doors and looked like a 4 door Celica. After that they looked like a Focus that had it’s new edge detail removed.

    There was a Mazda dealer in Whiteabbey briefly too. Can’t remember the name. It is now an ice cream shop and Indian restaurant.

    I get issues sometimes with the Honda, as technically it is an import from the Isle of Man, numberplate lookups just come back as Honda Saloon.

    How did you find the rust proofing on your import MX5? Or did you waxoyl it?

  46. The local Honda dealer around here is out on a limb, nowhere near anything else apart from a few houses and a ‘gastropub’. I don’t know how they survive to be honest

  47. Interesting that Crewe’s large Honda dealership is mentioned in the article. Stuart Graham Honda was originally based in a tiny village on the A530 (one of Britain’s most dangerous roads) and I think it is now affiliated with Holdcroft, North Staffordshire/South Cheshire’s main franchise network. In some ways it is a real success story, but the old garage was quaint, and I recall going into it in the late 1990’s with the NSX, Prelude, Accord and Civic Type R and new S2000 on show.

    Due to the Bentley workforce having the opportunity to lease cars at very competitive rates VW obviously has quite a big presence in Crewe, and there is a very well established joint Audi/VW/Seat dealership and the town’s Skoda dealership remains independent.

  48. John Banks group are running a radio advert at the moment claiming they ‘must’ shift 74 cars at ‘cost’ price before the end of the month through their 3 Honda dealers in East Anglia. Good luck, they’ll bloody need it

  49. At least in Cumbria the family dealer is still alive and well. B and H Motors, run by Ron Batty since the sixties, has regularly won awards for SEAT dealer of the year. Ron is effectively the salesman and manager, whenever you walk in, he is the person you see. My family bought a Motability car from B and H and compared with the shoddy and incompetent way Arnold Clark treated them with the Citroen Picasso, B and H was completely the opposite. Also the cars are very desirable.

  50. 2 Ford dealers in West Yorks are still family owned, Springfield in Knottingley & Coopers of Oulton, both still give you decent service, but how long these guys stay around for is anyone’s guess

  51. Having been in sales form 71 until 88 in the Uk when I moved to NZ. I note that almost all the franchises I worked for have ceased to trade. I think there must be a problem with the motor industry. I am so sad to note that All the BL franchises are gone and the Vauxhall dealerships I worked for are gone. I talk of Timberlakes Wigan, Hattons St Helens,, Lookers Warrington, Southern Brothers Bolton Horwich Blackburn Preston. Sydney Harrison Wigan, Barbers of Bramhall, Syd Abrams, manchester Blakes Manchester , Henleys Manchester I feel very sad about these.

  52. John

    Did you work for Hattons St Helens?
    I am trying to find examples/photos of dealer tax disc holders/numberplates/window stickers from late 1980s from Hattons.
    Don’t suppose you can help?

    Cheers

    Andrew

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