Prestige Motors celebrates its quarter century this year, and it’s been quite a rollercoaster ride.
The company, the sole distributor of Korean cars Hyundai in Cayman, had humble beginnings, starting out with an inventory of just 10 vehicles, which it sold from a borrowed parking lot on Crewe Road.
Opened by Danny O’Hara and Larry Hunter in 1984, the company has grown to take a 12-15 per cent of market share in the car sales industry on the island.
The two men worked in the construction industry together before deciding to get in a less ‘labour intensive’ field, Mr. O’Hara explained.
‘I discussed our new business idea with my cousin Richard Stewart in Jamaica who is also in the automobile business and he mentioned a virtually unknown car manufacturer called Hyundai,’ Mr. O’Hara said.
He got in contact with the South Korean embassy in Kingston, Jamaica via telex, who put him in contact with the Hyundai company – and the rest is history.
‘We had Hyundai in Cayman before the States, Canada or Jamaica,’ said Mr. O’Hara.
The company also originally sold Volvos, inspired to do so by the fact that Mr. O’Hara, when he returned to Cayman after living in Canada, brought his Volvo with him and realised quickly that his was the only one on the Island and he could not get parts or service.
Getting funding from the Royal Bank of Canada, the company got its first shipment of Hyundai cars in April 1984. Initially run from Larry’s Tires on Crew Road and displaying its cars in the Motor and General car park across the road, the company soon moved to its own premises on Eastern Avenue where it remained for 24 years.
The economically priced Hyundai proved popular at a time when purse strings were tight. ‘It was a price-driven market and we steadily sold our inventory,’ Mr. O’Hara recalls.
With the advent of the Gulf War in 1992, the economy came to a standstill and car sales were in the doldrums. At that point, the company moved into the car rental business, opening up Economy Car Rental.
‘We survived and again we steadily sold cars and things started to look a little better, but things were really not that good either. We were in desperate need of something to boost sales,’ Mr. O’Hara said.
The success of a Hyundai car in the monthly auto cross races in 1994 proved to be the boost he needed. The victories on the race track made Hyundai a household name and helped eliminate the car’s reputation for being a cheaper or lower quality alternative to other Asian models like Honda, Nissan or Toyota.
Since then, sales of Hyundai have gone from strength to strength.
Mr. O’Hara explained that the cars are much sought after as fleet cars for rental companies. He and Mr. Hunter now have two of their own rental companies, Economy and Discount Rentals.
The popularity of the i10 model as a rental car has led Mr. O’Hara to make his single biggest order yet. ‘We’re awaiting the arrival of 80 cars. Normally we order 15 or 20 at a time,’ he said.
A major setback to Prestige occurred in September 2004 when Hurricane Ivan slammed into Cayman. ‘We lost our entire stock of 135 cars. They were under six feet of water,’ he said.
‘At that point, the thought crossed our minds that there was no possible way for us to recover. But through the encouragement and hard work of our dedicated staff and our large and loyal customer base, we knew we had to carry on.’
Desmond Panton, from Key Motors, the Hyundai distributor in Jamaica, helped get the company back on its feet by quickly sending 30 new cars to Cayman, and Hyundai gave Prestige’s orders for cars and parts priority.
‘Slowly but sure, we were able to recuperate and continued to get the public to realise what good cars Hyundai’s are. We have an excellent warranty programme and everyone who buys a Hyundai enjoys a three-year warranty and two free years of service.
‘In addition, we haven’t had a warranty claim in four years due to Hyundai quality and our service programme,’ he said.
Prestige opened a new chapter in its story on 28 May this year when it moved into its new home, Breezy Castle, near the airport.
Prestige Motors Ltd. has been the sole Hyundai Distributor in the Cayman Islands since 1983
Prestige offers a full service and parts department.
Prestige honours Hyundai warranties.
The full line of Prestige offerings can be seen on the lot and in the showroom.
Prestige also has rental car companies.