Foreign Car Concessionaires (Part 2)

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In this second part of our feature covering the concessionaires of foreign cars sold in this country we survey several more foreign makes, with especial emphasis on spares and service facilities, factors which will become increasingly important should Britain enter the European Common Market. In Part 1 of this series Volvo made the statement that they are the third highest selling import in Britain. This is challenged by Fiat, who, while regretfully relinquishing first and second places to VW and Renault respectively, point out that their import figures are well in advance of those claimed by Volvo. There are, as far as we know, no figures available from independent sources to substantiate either claim, and of course all the import figures given in this series are the estimates made by the importers.

VW Motors Ltd., 32-34, St. John’s Wood Road, London, N.W.8.

Although designed before the war VW did not go into serious production until the late ’40s and was not imported seriously into Britain until 1953. Before that time Colborne Garages Ltd. of Ripley had begun overhauling used cars and carrying stocks of spares, while some cars were imported into Ireland. In 1953 VW Motors Ltd. was formed, being a 100% British Company, a subsidiary of Thomas Tilling Ltd. The Managing Director is J. J. Graydon; Wholesale Sales Manager, P. W. Bingham; Export Sales Manager, C. R. Caridia; Service Manager, H. C. Amor; and Public Relations Manager, H. S. Hewitt.

Like so many other Continental car concessionaires VW Motors Ltd. do not have an accurate assessment of the number of VWs in this country owing to the numbers brought in privately by servicemen but there are now nearly 100,000 Volkswagen vehicles in this country and present annual import figures are around 19,000 vehicles.

To bring this large number of cars, vans, commercial vehicles and spares into the country, VW Motors charter ships to bring them into Ramsgate harbour from Bremerhaven, the cars having been railed from Wolfsburg. Previously cars had been brought into the Port of London but the change to Ramsgate has allowed VW to build their own premises close to the docks where the cars are washed with high pressure jets of water which remove the protective wax. The cars are then inspected for damage and stored awaiting collection. They are then either railed from the nearby sidings, collected by dealers’ drivers or delivered by transporter if consignments are large enough. On arrival at the dealers the cars are inspected again for damage before they are handed over to customers. The only cars to go to the London premises are those for sale in London and some of the tourist vehicles which are normally left-hand-drive cars for foreign tourists, usually American, who use the cars on holiday then take them home. These cars are not normally brought over on the ships but are flown over as and when required.

All models in the VW range are considered suitable for sale in this country, although some of the more specialised commercial vehicles obviously have little appeal here. At the moment few British parts are used in the VW, although Michelin tyres made in Britain are fitted to cars coming into this country. These tyres are exported from Britain on the ships which bring the cars in, are fitted in Germany, then returned to Britain. British batteries of various types are fitted at Ramsgate but very few British-made parts are fitted to the whole production. Glacier bearings are used on cars going all over the world but although Wolfsburg is anxious to use many more British-made parts, the difficulty is in finding suppliers who can guarantee to supply sufficient quantities to keep pace with the huge production. A team of VW engineers is visiting Britain shortly to visit several accessory suppliers to discuss the possibility of using some British components. The sales and service organisation throughout Britain consists of 35 distributors and 250 dealers who are backed by field representatives, service managers, mechanics and sales staff from VW Motors. An advisory service is available to dealers for the planning of buildings, organisation of spare parts, etc. All agents are required to maintain a specified minimum spares and tools stock and are inspected regularly by representatives from service, sales and spares departments as well as from the factory, and if not up to the required standard a garage can lose the VW agency. Training courses are held every month in London for salesmen connected with the VW organisation, sixteen salesmen attending each course.

The mechanics’ school consists of a permanent base in London plus a mobile school which tours the British Isles visiting all distributors and dealers. Mechanics’ courses are split up into four parts including a primary course, an advanced week on engines, advanced week on transmissions and a special course for service advisers.

Service facilities at VW Motors’ London premises are available to anyone but are mainly intended for those London dealers who have limited amounts of space for workshop accommodation. VW Motors employs approximately 350 people. Spares are available for all models in the VW range, these being imported on the ships which bring the cars. Spares are taken to the company’s spares depot at Slough for distribution through the dealer network.

The VW is unquestionably the largest selling import and VW Motors feel that the future of the VW is already assured in Britain even if we do not enter the Common Market as the car has obviously overcome its price disadvantage. If we do enter the Common Market the VW can expect increased sales due to the anticipated decrease in price and due to the fact that vehicles from Common Market countries will be more acceptable to British buyers generally. This applies particularly to commercial vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz (Great Britain) Ltd., Great West Road, Brentford, Middlesex.

The history of importation of Daimler-Benz cars began in 1899 when the firm of MiInes Daimler Ltd. opened premises in Balderton Street, W.1, moving in 1902 to Tottenham Court Road, by which time the cars were called Mercedes. Various changes in premises were made during the ensuing years until in 1928 the factory took control and installed the Company in Camberwell, opening showrooms in Park Lane in 1936 with a full staff of German salesmen, all to cope with the sale of 50 cars a year! By the time the war came the works were at Grosvenor Road, the Government taking over for the manufacture of radar components. After the war the Company Solicitor tried to hand the Company back to the factory but they did not want it, so it was run for some time by the Solicitor and was eventually taken over by Thomas Tilling’s, a wholly owned British Company, in June 1960. The Managing Director is W. J. Argent, Sales Manager, L. A. Bryar; Service Manager, J. M. B. Rees; and Public Relations Officer, E. Johnson.

It is estimated that there are approximately 7,000 Mercedes cars in the U.K. although, like so many other makes, there are obviously a number in Britain which have been brought in by returning servicemen. Mercedes are unwilling to supply present yearly import figures. The majority of Mercedes cars are brought in by air, being flown to Lydd Airport, where they are either collected by delivery drivers or taken to Brentford on transporters. Approximately 25% of Mercedes imports are brought in by sea via Zeebrugge- Harwich and then railed from Harwich to East Acton Station. The cars have a protective wax finish and adhesive strips over chromium-plated parts which is removed at Brentford. The car is then cleaned, serviced and road-tested before delivering to the dealers, who carry out a further pre-delivery check before handing the car over to the customer. Few British components are used in Mercedes cars but Dunlop disc brakes are manufactured under licence in Germany by ATE and Lockheed brakes and Solex carburetters are used on some models. Firestone tyres are exported from Britain, fitted in Germany, then returned on the cars to Britain.

At the Brentford headquarters is a large workshop which can tackle all the necessary jobs on any Mercedes-Benz model, a separate shop carrying out all dismantling and overhaul work on engines, transmission, fuel injection, etc. Bodywork and spray-painting shops are also installed. Extensive use is made of Crypton electronic tuning equipment and a chassis dynamometer is installed. Cars at the factory are tested on chassis dynamometers and the figures are made available to engineers at Brentford so that customers’ cars can be tested on the dynamometer to see if they are giving the correct amount of power to the wheels. This is shortly being moved to a new sound-proofed bay where the noise level will not disturb other workers. There is also a separate bay at Brentford where all sports cars are serviced; thus the 190SL and 300SL owner can be assured of individual attention.

Due to their connections with Auto Union (G.B.) Ltd., as both organisations are in the Thomas Tilling Group, a certain amount of integration has taken place and Mercedes spares are now housed in a more spacious building in the Auto Union premises on the opposite side of the road, and in return Auto Union cars are serviced in a new workshop recently added to the Mercedes headquarters. Very large stocks of spares are held at Brentford for all models, including commercial vehicles, the spares coming in by sea. Urgent spares can be summoned from Stuttgart by air within 24 hours over the Telex system which is installed at Brentford. Regular Sales and Service courses are held at Brentford and Bradford for dealers’ mechanics, salesmen and apprentices, the classes being sufficiently small in number so that each student can receive individual tuition. In addition a mobile school tours the country giving instruction on dealers’ premises. A field service representative also tours the country inspecting garages and acting in an advisory capacity when required. The Spares Department also has a representative who visits dealers to inspect stocks of spare parts.

Mercedes-Benz (Great Britain) Ltd. state that their policy in the last three years has been to build up the service side of the organisation before developing sales to any great extent. The stage has now been reached when with the sum of £350,000 invested in spares and a great deal of time taken in training mechanics that a greater emphasis can be placed on sales promotion. The Company has been recently undertaking a market research investigation over the whole country and examining ways in which it is possible for them to help dealers improve their sales position. The Company believes that its share of the market for luxurious high-performance cars will increase irrespective of whether Great Britain goes into the European Common Market.

Auto Union (G.B.) Ltd., Great West Road, Brentford, Middx.

Imports of the little fabric bodied two-cylinder, two-stroke D.K.W began before the war and some 500 of these were imported by a subsidiary of Henleys before war broke out. In 1954 when imports re-commenced they were handled by A.F.N. Ltd., until in 1959 the Thomas Tilling Group acquired the Agency. The Managing Director is W. J. Argent, Sales Manager, H. A. Ball, Service Manager, V. Gossington and Public Relations Officer, E. Johnson.

There are approximately 2,000 Auto Unions and D.K.W.s in the U.K. at present with imports running at some 400 cars a year. The cars are brought to England by sea, the most usual route being the Ostend-Dover run. The cars are then driven up from Dover or loaded onto transporters and brought to Brentford where the preservatives are removed and the cars checked over and passed on to dealers who also carry out their own pre-delivery check. Customers can collect their own cars if they want a trip to the factory. They get a V.I.P. trip round the works and a free Dinner!

Few British made parts are used in Auto Union and D.K.W. cars although Solex carburetters and fuel pumps are used and British tyres are sent to the Ingoldstaat factory for fitting to cars supplied to Britain. A complete range of spare parts is held in stock at Brentford for all current models as well as a wide selection of the more frequently demanded spares for older models including the pre-war two-cylinder cars, such items as complete spare engines being available from stock for this model. For spares not in stock a Telex system is installed at Brentford by which means emergency parts can be obtained in 24 hours. The value of spare parts alone amounts to £81,000.

With the closer integration of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union technical facilities Auto Union have access to chassis dynamometer and Crypton tuning equipment, the latter having been adapted for use with three-cylinder engines. Auto Union give three free services on new cars, covering the first 3,000 miles. Service courses are held at Brentford and Bradford and in addition a technical training representative tours the country in a fully equipped Auto Union 1000 estate car inspecting service agents and acting in an advisory capacity when required. The Spares Dept. also has a representative who inspects dealers’ stock of spares. There are approximately 50 people employed by Auto Union (G.B.) Ltd. Some 125 distributors and dealers sell Auto Union and D.K.W. vehicles in the U.K.

Auto Union feel that their cars have a unique appeal to the enthusiast with family responsibilities. Experience over the last three years has shown that sales can be achieved despite the high tariff barrier and they are confident that even if Britain does not enter the European Common Market that the future for Auto Union and D.K.W. in this country is a bright one.

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