About AvonCity Ford
The AvonCity Ford Team
The AvonCity Ford History
On September 1 1965 Sockburn Motors Ltd commenced trading from new premises on the Main South Road, bounded by Racecourse and Epson Roads at Sockburn. Although it was a new dealer and newly formed company, it had started as a branch of Hutchinson Motors Ltd. After a complicated series of land transactions, with the key site being purchased from the Hill Estate, and the nine subsequent transactions with other parties, the five acre site was bought in 1954. It is opposite the southern roundabout of the Blenheim Road, which today is the main arterial route to the south, and has the highest density traffic flow in the South Island.
Orm Hutchinson Snr said that tractors had been a critical element in choosing the Sockburn site. "Fordson tractors had a checkered time in the past. In 1936 the franchise was taken away from Ford dealers, and given to Booth MacDonald Ltd. When they failed to get a satisfactory market share it was given to Gough. Gough and Hammer, who had John Deere and Caterpillar tractors, but they failed to perform. In 1946 Ford gave it back to Ford dealers, and with the new Fordson E27N and Ford Ferguson tractors, there was an immediate boost in sales. However, with conflict between Ford and Ferguson, the small Ford Ferguson was withdrawn, creating doubts about the future. When Henry Ford II was appointed, the company had renewed vigour and enthusiasm.
"We were behind our competitors with facilities and it was obvious that the city centre was not the right place to market and service tractors. After an intensive study, Sockburn was settled on as the right location, closer to many of our farmer and industrial clients, and large enough to provide for at least 50 years ahead. We received assurances from the district commissioner of works and Main Highways Board on the exact location of the proposed new bridge over the railway to make sure it didn't conflict with our five stage development plan prepared by Martyn Spencer in Wellington.
"Land purchases were completed in 1954, except for the house and dairy on the corner. The owners still had seven years of their 10 year lease to run, and were only prepared to sell on the most favourable terms. We decided to wait until the lease expired, and started on the first workshop.
"The next year the Main Highways Board was disbanded and replaced by the National Roads Board. Their new purchasing officer came to see me on Christmas Eve in 1955 to tell me that they would be buying a strip of land back from us that would effectively divide our property in two and make it useless for our plans. This was stunning news and a great Christmas box!
"We made immediate representations to National Roads Board, showing them our consultation with their predecessors, and how seriously this change would affect our plans. We suggested that by moving intersection slightly, developments would still work, fortunately they saw reason, but we lost 20ft of land on the south side with the realignment of Racecourse Road."
W A (Bill) Goss was appointed dealer principal when the dealership opened in September 1965. A qualified accountant, he started work with an accountancy firm during the Depression and then joined up during the Second World War, serving in the army in England after he had been very ill. After the war he worked in his family's timber business, before joining Hutchinson's in 1955, later becoming commercial sales manager. He was involved in the development of Sockburn branch from an early date. All 43 staff members, mostly in the workshop, came from Hutchinson's so the transition was one of management rather than establishing a new business, and Sockburn Motors still worked closely with Hutchinson's initially, the sales and administration offices and parts were operated from a former house on Epson Road, with a staff cafeteria in the next house.
Sockburn Motors got off to a very fast start with all the commercial activity and tractors, but new cars were scarce, and rationed by the government's import restrictions. Many of the new car sales were made using the No Remittance scheme, and for every sale made using overseas funds, another new car was receive on allocation. Buildings were still being constructed but, as the site developed, it was an eye-catching area, very suitable for used car, truck and tractor display.
With the volume of work available a new panel and paint shop was built at the rear of the site, which quickly boosted business. The paint booth was one of the first in New Zealand to have full air conditioning, controlling temperature and filtering air to keep dust out, thus ensuring a perfect finish.
The tractor workshop was very busy, not only doing normal overhaul and repair work, but also with warranty. The introduction of the new Ford tractors in 1965 brought the revolutionary transmission known as Select-O-Speed, which had 10 forward and three reverse gears, all engaged hydraulically, and able to shift from neutral to drive, and between gears without a clutch. It was brilliant until the gremlins arrived and tractors mysteriously lost some of their gears again and again. It was a very embarrassing time for both customers and dealers and kept workshops through the country busy, with sales affected. Fortunately, the manual gearbox models were trouble free and kept the tractor range going.
The gardens of Christchurch are justly famous. Consequently, it was a considerable achievement for Sockburn Motors to win first prize in the commercial section of the Canterbury Horticultural Society's annual contest in 1968. It certainly showed the dedication of the dealership's handyman gardener, David Burn, one of the immigrants, who arrived from Yorkshire in 1952. He started at Sockburn in 1966 with a landscape plan and raw patches of kerbed seal and earth and created an immaculate vista of garden beds and lawns complementing the dealership's appearance. His dedication was respected by all staff members who kept the large area tidy and well presented.
Sockburn Motors helped develop many new industrial equipment items. Max Snook adapted Henry Cross' patent design of the Pelican loader to the Fordson E27N tractor. The patent was bough and the Pelican developed to fit the E27N, the new Fordson Major, Ford tractors, and then trucks. A rear loader and chain trencher were also developed. When tractor safety requirements were introduced by the Department of Agriculture, Max Snook was consulted to make sure the regulations were practical, and a 'Safe-T-Frame' was developed.
Max Snook first visited the Chathams in 1952, when at Hutchinson Motors, travelling a day and a half each way by the 600 ton steamer Port Waikato. There were few roads and he used a horse to get to many remote farms and a tractor to others. He convinced farmers that tractors would develop pastures and roads on the islands.
Tractors were exported to the Chatham Islands from Hutchinson's and Sockburn Motors, helping the islanders with solutions to their problems. A rear hydraulic crane was made, enabling a tractor to back into the sea to load and unload two tonne shipping containers from lighters. At the airstrip, formed using a Fordson and frontend loader, a forklift was mounted on the rear of a Fordson and used to upload freight from Bristol Freighter planes, which serviced the islands for years. About 50-60 Fordson tractors were in use in the 1970s; Max was made an honorary Chatham Islander for his years of help.
The company was also involved with C W F Hamilton & CO Ltd, which developed the jet boat using marine converted Ford engines. The Ford Zephyr engines were particularly suitable for their sports runabout which was able to navigate shallow Canterbury streams, rivers or sea waters, and resulted in huge export orders. At the end of 1969 Bill Goss, poor health resulting from his war service, could not continue to manage the dealership and moved to a more suitable position at Hutchinson Motors, and George Daniel assistant manager there, shifted out to become manager.
Truck sales and service increased steadily with the 1966 introduction of the Ford D Series range of English trucks. They were a modern version of the Trader trucks introduced in 1957, having many improvements, and a new tilt cab design making it much easier to get in and out. The 2-8 tonne range was extended with two tandem models, a turbocharged six and a V8 Cummins model, plus a bus chassis. The new trucks were very popular with customers and large numbers were sold to councils, carriers, companies, construction industries and farmers. A Key factor to these sales was the excellent backup service.
The company had been operating for some time without proper administration and sales facilities, from converted houses and the converted corner store from 1967. In 1973 a new showroom and administration area were built onto the original workshop and parts building, new cars were starting to become more plentiful in New Zealand, and sales volumes increased quickly, particularly with Australian Flacons. The new showroom faced Main South Road and had a two tired display area. The oil crisis in late 1973 caused an escalation in petrol prices. Checked falcon sales, but LPG conversions were soon available and many were converted to run on petroleum gas.
When George Daniel was transferred to Avery Motors in Wellington at the end of 1973 the business had nearly doubled in eight years staff numbers had increased to 65, nearly half in the workshops, nine in parts.
Noel Simons had started at Hutchinson Motors in 1954 as a garage attendant, later moving to used vehicle sales. In 1970 he was appointed manager at Papanui branch and manager of Sockburn Motors in January 1973, retaining the close ties between the two Christchurch dealerships.
In 1975 the fuel crisis prompted the government to make changes to registration charges. On the surface these seemed to be minor, but the effect it triggered was not. Also influenced by escalating fuel costs, the public switched from large to small cars almost overnight.
Falcon sales fell to about 15%, but unfortunately Ford Cortina became the country's No 1 seller.
When Japan became an export market and cars started to be imported from there, Ford, with their investment in Mazda, was well positioned to take advantage. In 1981 the first Japanese Fords appeared the Ford Courier utility (alias Mazda B Series). It was an immediate success. Soon afterwards, the Ford Laser car range (alias Mazda 323), was a spectacular success, and moved to No 1 spot in the New Zealand market, displacing Cortina. Many people would not buy a Japanese car, but a Ford was not considered to be one.
Following the 1973 oil crisis, tractor volumes had reduced and Ford decided to quit their Mowbray Street tractor assembly unit, getting Sockburn Motors to contract assemble for them. This change helped both parties and kept the Sockburn site fully occupied as a result.
On the truck front, Ford D Series finished in 1983, and Ford did not continue with the replacement English Cargo. Instead, Ford NZ established an alliance with Hino Japan and the starved NZ Ford truck dealers quickly established the Hino-Ford after a worrying 18 months with no heavy trucks.
In the mid-1980s, Ford altered Sockburn Motors' franchise territory, taking in the northern Papanui area of Christchurch, Morrie Burrows, service manager at Hutchinson's remembered staff were very unhappy, thinking the bulk of their 'spending' customers had been removed. Ford people were, however resolute despite spirited opposition. In order to deal with their changed and expanded role in the city, a new name was chosen to convey the changes, Ford said Hutchinson Motors' Papanui branch must now adopt the name of Sockburn Motors, and on August 1 1985, the 'old' Sockburn Motors became Avon City Ford Ltd, a name synonymous with the city of Christchurch.
On November 30 1986 Noel Simons retired and Paul Jordon was appointed manager. He had been manager of Avon City's Papanui branch. He started at Hutchinson Motors in 1961, went out for a period selling used cars on his own, and then joined New Lynn Motors, before returning to Christchurch in 1985.
When the change in government in 1984 brought massive changes to New Zealand, with new 'free market' policies, and a floating dollar, tractor sales crashed as farmers tried to contain their spending. This was followed by the share market crash in 1987 and labour market policy changes, and very quickly the motor industry was in turmoil. Added to this, import licence tendering was introduced and 'Jap Imports' commenced. Many NZ franchise dealers failed financially at this time.
Avon City Ford felt the changes as keenly as other dealers, and looked for new ways to fill the sales gaps. Encouraged by Ford, dealers fought each other for the reduced new vehicle sales numbers. Neighbouring Ford dealers became enemies as they picked each other off, and 'red ink' flowed.
When in 1988 Ford decided to sell out of tractors worldwide, and Ford NZ sold to C B Norwood, local distributors for New Holland, Fiat and Kubota tractors, Avon City assembly ceased. Tractor sales and service remained, but on a very different scale as Norwood's had their own branch operation at Templeton.
Paul Jordan, experienced with used cars, sought out new opportunities with Jap Imports, and Avon City Ford tendered for licence. It brought in many imports from Japan, making a new profit centre from this business. Used Cargo trucks from England were also imported and rebuilt with NZ bodies.
At the same time new trucks were changing and the number of trucks dealers was reduced to 18 nationally. By 1990 the Ford-Hino partnership was in doubt, and Ford NZ looked at other options, but they never eventuated.
Amidst all the turmoil of changes, Ford introduced their new retail excellence system in 1989 the president's Award, a measure of quality standards by the dealership's own customers. Christchurch had been built on the culture of looking after customers, a legacy from Ormond Hutchinson that succeeding management of both dealerships were committed to. In 1990 and 1991, Avon City was runner up for the President's Award, receiving Distinguished Achiever awards.
In 1993 Ford began importing North American Ford Louisville extra heavy trucks, which were being built with right hand drive by Ford Australia. Avon City Ford, as the logical truck centre of the South Island, became one of four dealers nationally handling Louisville. However, sales of this truck in the South Island were not great, with most being sold through Timaru Motors. In 1994 Ford gave the franchise to Timaru Motors.
Ford tractors went in 1993, when C B Norwood took over sales and service at their Templeton branch. This directly affected a long established group of Ford and Fordson tractor owners, but Ford was no longer involved and the Ford name was removed from the product.
When Paul Jordan resigned from Avon City Ford on October 31 1993, to return to the used car business, John A Flanagan took over management and was appointed CEO in February 1994. He had spent 15 years with his father in the motor business before joining Avon City Ford in 1985 as a salesman, after becoming sales manager. Also a rugby league coach, John Flanagan was a strong motivator of people, encouraging them to use their collective skills in the company's interests.
The business was now very different from the one he had started in eight years before. Staff numbers had reduced significantly, and heavy trucks had ended with the Louisville and the N Series Ford Hino. Trader trucks from 1.5 to 4 tonnes remained, but they were really only light units.
Computers had significantly reduced the number of office people since the introduction of the Magix system in the mid-1980s. The many repetitive cross entries between parts and service had been eliminated, and all new cars were now ordered 'on-line' from Ford. However, new and used cars and light commercials were still being sold eyeball to eyeball, and finance sales commissions had increased to become a significant profit centre. Workshops and changed with new high-tech computer based tools which analysed problems and adjustments. Vehicles and improved to such a degree that warranty had reduced and service intervals had extended. There was now no need for the Papanui branch workshop, and this was transferred back to Sockburn, with plans to lease the service station to BP. The dealership had now been operating for 20 years and was in need of renovation. Paul Goldsmith Architects re-designed the frontage, interior and appearance, without major structural changes, giving a spectacular new imagine to the dealership, and ensured its now commanding presence dominated the Main South Road.
Quality awards started to flow in 1994, and have done every year since then, as the customer-focussed staff work to a common goal. Standards had always been important, and, with a staff largely trained on site, results were assured.
When the Rangiora Ford Dealership ceased to operate in 1996, Avon City took over this area, leasing a two bay workshop to service local customer vehicles. Business was slow at first, but when locals found the new people were genuinely keen to help them, the business snowballed and today the branch has six staff.
On June 30 1998, John Flanagan transferred to take over the Nelson and Blenheim Ford dealerships, now called M S Ford, and purchased by Colonial Motor Company.
John W Luxton was shifted from Macaulay Motors, Invercargill to become CEO on July 1998. A horticulture graduate, he started at Hutchinson Motors in 1990 in vehicle sales, and became fleet sales manager. In 1993 he was transferred to Te Awamutu as dealer principal, then became CEO of Macaulay Motors in 1995. Pre-employment training became available to accredited Ford dealers in 1998 and looked a likely winner for the dealership. Service manager Bruce McCoubrey, who had worked for Avon City since leaving school and starting his diesel apprenticeship in 1977, took on the responsibility of getting this scheme off the ground. Employing their own trainer, the courses of 10 students have been popular and classes have expanded, with students working toward their NZQA exams. The scheme also gives Avon City first selection choice for apprentices.
Business manager Craig Fuller has responsibility for all Avon City accounting and oversees two regional dealerships. Parts manager Paul Leary started at Sockburn Motors in 1971 and today has combined responsibility for Ford parts operations in Christchurch. Avon City Ford was one of the dealerships to pilot the new Ford Worldwide appearance identification upgrade, further enhancing an already impressive image.
John Luxton said: "In order to retain and satisfy our customers we must strive to be the very best we can in all areas of our business at Avon City Ford we collectively seek improvement."