China International Motors (鎧興汽車) – Distributor of Bedford, Vauxhall and Buick automobiles

York Lo: China International Motors (鎧興汽車) – Distributor of Bedford, Vauxhall and Buick automobiles

China International Motors Image 1 York Lo

Left: China International Motors ad from the 1950s; Right: Vauxhall ad in the HK Police Magazine in 1956

The American auto giant General Motors (GM) once had a significant presence in the HK automobile market from the late 1940s to the 1960s with its Chevrolet and Cadillac brands represented by Far East Motors (covered earlier), its Oldsmobile, Opel and Pontiac brands by Triangle Motors (to be covered later) and its Buick, Vauxhall and Bedford brands by China International Motors Ltd.

China International Motors was founded in 1946 by Edward Eu Keng-oi (余經鎧, 1921-2016), the fifth son of the Malaysian Chinese tin and banking tycoon Eu Tong-sen (余東旋,1877-1941) whose family is best known for the Chinese medicine firm of Eu Yan Sang and the three castles (Euston on Bonham Road, Eucliff in Repulse Bay and Sirmio in Taipo) they built in HK.

Born in Singapore, Eddie Eu attended both Catholic and Protestant missionary schools there before pursuing further studies at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. During the War, he worked as secretary to Chinese Foreign Minister T.V. Soong, whom he got to know during the latter’s stay in HK in the 1930s. As part of his work with Soong, Eu was a delegate to the San Francisco Conference in 1945 which created the charter of the United Nations. The ties between the Soongs and the Eus were further cemented when Eddie’s younger brother Charles Eu Keng-pang (余經鵬) married Soong’s second daughter Mary Jane Soong (宋曼頤). When T.V.’s younger brother T.A. Soong died in 1969, Eddie Eu succeeded him as chairman of Bank of Canton in California at the recommendation of T.V. and T.V. himself died during a dinner party at Eddie’s apartment in San Francisco in April 1971.

After the War, Eddie Eu could have continued his work with the KMT government or joined one of his family businesses but instead he chose to start two new ventures in HK. In 1946, Eddie Eu incorporated China International Motors in HK with Kwee-Seong Lo (羅桂祥, 1910-1995), the founder of Vitasoy. Lo’s father Lo Chin-hing worked for Eu Tong-sen and the senior Eu sponsored K.S. Lo’s studies at the University of Hong Kong in the 1930s. N.S. Buergin was listed as manager and Lo’s younger brother Victor Lo Tang-Seong (羅騰祥, co-founder of Café De Coral) also worked for the firm at one point. The other business Eu launched in 1946 was the import export firm of China International Commercial Co Ltd (鎧興有限公司, his younger brother Alexander Eu 余經驥 and the prominent lawyer and politician C.Y. Kwan were directors of the firm), which like China International Motors derived its Chinese name from his Chinese name.

China International Motors Image 2 York Lo

Eu Tong-sen (second from right, back row) and 11 of his 13 sons in the early 1930s including Eddie Eu  

Founded in 1897, Buick is the oldest auto brand in America and GM was formed in 1908 by Buick owner William Durant as a holding company to acquire other brands such as Oldsmobile and Cadillac. In terms of product positioning within the GM family, Buick is a premium brand below that of Cadillac but above that of the more mainstream Chevrolet. Vauxhall, which started making cars in the UK in 1903, was acquired by GM in 1925 and Bedford was established as a subsidiary of Vauxhall to make commercial vehicles such as lorries in 1930. Since HK follow the left-hand traffic system of the UK, it was natural for GM to introduce the British made Vauxhall and Bedford in the HK market.

From the late 1940s through the 1950s, China International Motors operated out of 350 Hennessy Road in Wanchai while its offices were located at the Bank of East Asia Building in Central. (Eddie’s brother Eu Keng-loon was married to the daughter of Kan Tong-po, BEA’s founder) When the site was re-developed by Cheung Chun-hon and Lo Hoi-ming as the 24 story Cheong Ip Building in 1961, the firm moved to Caroline Mansions at 14 Yan Ping Road in Causeway Bay and a Kowloon branch was also established at Imperial Court at 79C Waterloo Road. By 1968, it also has a service station in Queen’s Road East in addition to the Causeway Bay location and its Kowloon showroom was located at Portland House in Ma Tau Wei Road. According to Eddie Eu’s obituary, he was also the sole agent for Toyota of Japan (before Crown Motors), Saab of Finland and Subaru of Japan (before Tan Chong Motors) in HK.

China International Motors Image 3 York Lo

A car crashed into the China International Motors showroom on Hennessy Road in 1958, shattering its glass window (Kung Sheung Evening News, 1958-10-3)

China International Motors Image 4 York Lo

Launch of Vauxhall Viva (which was introduced in 1963) in HK in 1965 with Eagle’s Nest performer Miss Carol hanging out with salespeople (WKYP, 1965-3-18)

In Singapore, Eddie Eu operated Edward Eu & Co at 1 Orchard Road which was the distributor of RCA in Singapore and Malaysia from the 1950s. In 1956, he fell in love with Hawaii and moved there with his family although he returned often to HK to oversee his various businesses. In Honolulu, he acquired Universal Motors Co Ltd, which was a Chrysler and Plymouth dealership founded in 1924. In 1972, Universal Motors took over the Dodge franchise in Hawaii when Crown Corp’s Hawaiian Motors went out of business.

In 1968, Eu teamed up with Karl Oberacker, the district service manager of Mercedes in Northern California, Alaska, Nevada and Hawaii to set up Euro Motors as a Mercedes Benz dealership in Hawaii. The dealership grew into a sizeable business and BMW was added in 1972. In 1979, Eu decided to retire from the auto business and sold Euro Motors to Theo H. Davies while Oberacker bought out the BMW business and set up BMW of Honolulu.

China International Motors Image 5 York Lo

Eddie Eu (second from left) and his colleague (first from the left) and Leon Zigal of Triangle Motors (first from right) with the Asia district manager of GM (second from right) at the Kai Tak Airport (WKYP, 1958-6-22)

In the early 1990s, Eddie Eu as chairman of Eu Yan Sang Hong Kong presided over its listing on the Stock Exchange of HK but the firm was delisted within a few years and relisted in Singapore under the control of a different branch of the family.

China International Motors Image 6 York Lo

Left: Eddie and Peggy Eu with their daughter Vivien in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-5-8); Right: RCA ad in Singapore by Edward Eu & Co. (April 17, 1955, Straits Times)

China International Motors Image 7 York Lo

Left: China International Motors ad promoting new model of Vauxhall Victor in 1967; Right: Edward Eu in his later years

Outside of business, Eddie Eu served as a Regent of Chaminade University of Honolulu for decades beginning in the 1960s. He was also a member of the Board of Directors for Bank of Hawaii, and Past President of the Honolulu Symphony and Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

His wife Peggy Ma Pik-kit (馬碧潔) is the daughter of Dr. Ma Chiu-ki (馬超奇) and Cantonese opera star Soochow Sister (蘇州妹, original name Lam Yee-mui 林綺梅). Their daughter Vivien married Dr. Benjamin U, who happened to be the grandson of U Sze-wing, the comprador of Dodwell Motors in 1971. In 2016, Eddie Eu passed away in Honolulu at the age of 95.

Sources:

  1. Wedding notice of Benjamin U and Vivien Eu, New York Times, May 30, 1971
  2. http://obits.staradvertiser.com/2016/04/22/edward-keng-oi-eu-2/
  3. A Big Wheel, Hawaii Business, Jan 1985
  4. Wah Kiu Yat Po, 1961-10-13

This article was first posted on 4th June 2018.

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Far East Motors – distributor of Chevrolet, Cadillac, Holden and Standard automobiles and operator of Avis Rent-A-Car in HK
  2. Hua Nan Motors – HK distributor of DeSoto, Peugeot and Renault automobiles from the 1940s to 1960s
  3. Kwok Tai Motor & Pump Company Ltd – distributor of VVs – village vehicles
  4. The Vitasoy Story
  5. The Hong Kong Soya Bean Products Company…Vitasoy – manufactured in Hong Kong since 1940

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