Looking back on 25 years of all things Prestige
Editor’s note: Following is the speech given by Mr. Danny O’Hara at the 25th anniversary and grand opening of the new Prestige building.
‘Good evening and welcome to our honoured guests and customers, guests from abroad, family and friends.
‘Thank you for joining us tonight to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Prestige Motors and Hyundai in Cayman and the grand opening of our new facilities at Breezy Castle.
‘I would like to start to night by going back 25 y ears to April 1984 and giving you a little bit of a history of how we started. My partner and good friend of 45 years Larry Hunter and I discussed a way to get into a business that would not be as labour intensive as the construction industry and we agreed that we should go into the car business.
‘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. But he said that the company had a great future and that the cars were economically priced.
‘So I asked him to get me the contact information from the South Korean Embassy in Kingston and he got me their telex number. By the way, thanks Richard.
‘As you all know we got the distributorship for Hyundai for the Cayman Islands.
‘At this time, I would like to thank Larry and Peggy for supporting me with this new venture. We started Prestige Motors in 1984 with the help of the Royal Bank of Canada, which gave us the necessary financing. We got our first shipment of cars in April of 1984. I remember Larry saying, ‘Did you ever think that we would ever own 10 cars all at the same time in our life.’ We were very proud.
‘We had humble beginnings. Prestige Motors was based in Larry’s Tires on Crewe Road and the cars were displayed across the road in the Motor and General parking lot. I am so honoured to have known Ken Chan, who was also instrumental in providing us with insurance coverage.
‘We quickly realised that we needed a permanent home and in 1985, we moved to our new building on Eastern Avenue and shared the premises with Larry’s Hardware.
‘In those days we sold our Hyundai cars mainly due to the price, as the price was extremely competitive and times were a bit tight for most. It was a price driven market and we steadily sold our inventory.
‘1992 was the start of the Gulf War and the economy was at a standstill. We had over 100 cars in stock and a very large overdraft and no promises of sales. We all lost lots of sleep over this situation. We wondered ‘What do we do with this many cars.’ With my limited experience in the car rental industry we decided to go into the car rental business and in 1992 we opened Economy Car Rental out of necessity. This was a big turning point for PML.
‘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 for something to boost sales.
:’My then parts manager and salesman Gary Huggins was an avid supporter of the Cayman Islands Auto Cross Association, not to mention a very skilled and experienced race car driver who kept pestering me about putting Hyundai on the track. Gary said, ‘I guaranty we will win if I get a car to race.’
‘Finally I said let’s do it. It became a pet project for us and in 1994 we entered a Hyundai Accent into the auto cross. On our first outing we won every race and swept the field.
‘This propelled Hyundai to instant stardom in Cayman. We were in the newspapers and on TV and on the radio. We were definitely the buzz on the Marl Road. Many bets were won and lost as a result of our racing team.
‘The Auto Cross became a family event and my whole family was there every race day to cheer Gary to victory. We won nearly every race consecutively and we were the champions for three years in a row.
‘This was the shot in the arm for sales that we needed and Hyundai became a household name in Cayman as a result. Thanks Gary for being so persistent. Because of you we were now associated with winning and the exposure was phenomenal.
‘It wasn’t much later that I asked my wife Peggy to join me at PML and in 1997 she joined to run the Service Department. And in 2001 my brother-in-law Robert Southerland joined us to help with the workload and head up the Parts Department.
‘All was running smoothly, due to Larry’s support and Peggy’s organisational skills, but mainly to the dedication of my trusted and loyal staff.
‘In September 2004 Ivan hit and devastated Cayman and like so many other businesses, we lost everything. And I mean everything.
‘There was over six feet of sea water in our parking lot and we lost 135 cars. Our building was severely damaged. At this 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.
‘I remember talking to Desmond Panton, from Key Motors, the Hyundai distributor in Jamaica right after the storm. He had heard of our great loss and instantly offered help. He said, ‘Danny, we have cars in stock and you are welcome to some of them.’ So he sent us 30 Hyundais – all brand new and we were able to swiftly satisfy our loyal customers. Thank you Desmond.
‘Hyundai also gave us priority on all of our orders both for cars and parts.
‘When we ordered, we got it.
‘No back orders. Thank you Mr. Kang.
Slowly but surely we were able to recuperate and continued to get the public to realise what good cars Hyundais are. We have an excellent warranty programme and everyone who buys a Hyundai enjoys three years warranty and two years of free service.
‘As a result, we haven’t had a warranty claim in four years, due to Hyundai quality and our service programme.
‘And here we are, 25 years later, moving into what we had first only dared to dream about; our new hurricane resistant, state-of-the art facility at Breezy Castle, which will be our home for many years to come.’
Robert Southerland and Danny O’Hara. Photo: Norma Connolly
Danny O’Hara making his speech at the anniversary celebration and grand opening. Photo: Norma Connolly
‘It wasn’t much later that I asked my wife Peggy to join me at PML and in 1997 she joined to run the Service Department. And in 2001 my brother-in-law Robert Southerland joined us to help with the workload and head up the Parts Department.’
‘1992 was the start of the Gulf War and the economy was at a standstill. We had over 100 cars in stock and a very large overdraft and no promises of sales. We all lost lots of sleep over this situation. We wondered ‘What do we do with this many cars.’ With my limited experience in the car rental industry we decided to go into the car rental business and in 1992 we opened Economy Car Rental out of necessity. This was a big turning point for PML.’