By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A leading Bahamian auto dealer yesterday said it was investing $140,000 to ‘swap’ the location of two vehicle brands, with the aim of generating a 10 per cent sales boost for the most popular.
Fred Albury, who heads the Auto Mall, Executive Motors and Omega Motors dealerships, told Tribune Business that its Hyundai vehicle brand was being moved to the companies’ main Shirley Street location opposite St Matthew’s Church.
Its place will be taken by the Toyota brand, which will be switched to the present Hyundai location that is further west on Shirley Street. And, to complete the home switches, Mr Albury said Suzuki vehicles would be moved to the companies’ Wulff Road location.
“We’re swapping locations. There’s quite a bit going on,” Mr Albury told Tribune Business. “We’re bringing our Hyundai brand down to the Toyota spot here, opposite St Matthew’s Church, so we are making some renovations, and putting Toyota where Hyundai is.”
He indicated that the switch was being driven by Hyundai’s status as the joint new car sales leader in the Bahamian market, and the Korean-owned brand’s decision to move its product up market - something that their dealers worldwide will have to match.
“All in all it’s probably in the area of $140,000,” Mr Albury said of the dealership’s total investment, “with new signage, new flooring and furnishings.
“Hyundai are the ones paying the bills right now, and they’re supporting us about 40 per cent” of the total costs.
Mr Albury said the location swap was scheduled to be completed by the end of May, after the new Hyundai showroom was finished. When that was completed, the Bahamian dealership would focus on upgrading a service department used by all its brands - a project targeted for end-June completion.
“We’re hoping to see a 10 per cent boost in sales,” he said of the anticipated impact for the Hyundai brand. “I guess most of Hyundai’s market penetration over the last five to six years has been because it was perceived as an inexpensive brand, and now they’re going a lot more upscale in their products.
“They’ve done a damn good job in designing and equipping and maintaining a good price. They’re just making sure the dealers are doing their part to keep standards up and keeping abreast of the market.”
Hyundai and its fellow Korean brand, Kia, have benefited from a favourable US dollar/won exchange rate and relatively low prices, which have kept import tariff rates lower and proven attractive to Bahamians hard-hit by the recession and subsequent slow recovery.
Mr Albury said Bahamas Motor Dealers Association (BMDA) data showed that Hyundai and Kia “run neck and neck” with a collective market share of 54 per cent, with Toyota enjoying a 10 per cent share itself.
And he told Tribune Business that the luxury, high-end new vehicles are now selling better than those priced for the mid-market, largely due to the difficulties buyers in the latter category are having in obtaining financing.
“What’s been doing exceptionally well for us is the luxury segment,” Mr Albury said. “We’re doing exceptionally well with the BMW brand, and as one of my competitors said a few weeks ago, they were almost flying off the shelf.
“The low and mid range vehicles that cater to the middle income market are on the slower side, because of the difficulty in obtaining funding. People with money are paying what they need to get it.”
Acknowledging that April’s figures may have been inflated by the Car Show aftermath, Mr Albury said his firm had managed to sell 16 BMW vehicles that month.
“We had forecast 50-60 units for the year, and that was considerable,” he said. “If it continues through the rest of the year, demand being strong, we will have high expectations for the BMW brand.”
Mr Albury added that there had been “a considerable increase” in demand for hybrid vehicles, so much so that his firm had raised its sales forecast for the Toyota Camry model in this class five-fold compared to several years ago.
“Our forecast for this year is 50, compared to a couple of years ago when we might have done 10,” he told Tribune Business.