Metro Cars (新英華汽車) and Austin automobiles in HK (1953-1970)

York Lo: Metro Cars (新英華汽車) and Austin automobiles in HK (1953-1970)

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Left: Metro Cars building in Tsuen Wan in the 1960s; Right: ad for Austin’s A40 model in 1959 (WKYP, 1959-4-14) 

Before the onslaught of Japanese automobiles in the 1970s, British cars dominated the roads of Hong Kong and Austin was a particularly popular brand in the 1950s and 1960s, represented by Metro Cars (HK) Limited. Founded in 1953, Metro Cars was one of the leading auto dealers in HK at the time before its merger with Dodwell Motors to form Metro-Dodwell (later shortened to MD Motors), the largest auto dealer group in the colony in 1970.  This article will cover the history of Metro Cars from 1953 to 1970 while future articles will cover Dodwell Motors, MD Motors and its affiliate Crown Motors. 

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Left: Metro Cars founder Bert Chan Young (SKH School website); Right: Chan Young’s wife Cheng Kit-wan and Annie Young with leaders of the Western District Womens Club in 1957 Right to left: Lee Ho Siu-king (李何笑瓊), Pang Cheung Tsui-wah (彭張翠華), Ling Chan Lai-ching (凌陳麗貞), Annie Young (楊林安妮, wife of plastic industry pioneer Norman Young, see articles), Shum Wong Miu-king (沈黃妙瓊), Chan Cheng Kit-wan, Lee To Yat-hin (李陶逸軒),, Wong Tse Yeuk-lan (黃謝若蘭). (WKYP, 1957-9-2)  

Metro Cars was founded in HK by 1953 to distribute Austin cars and trucks by Australian Chinese entrepreneur Bert Chan Young (陳融,1904-1972), whose original name was Chan Hon-man (陳漢文). Born in Australia and a member of the Anglican Church, Bert was a chartered accountant and entered the automobile business as an accountant for the Shanghai office of General Motors before World War II. During the War, Chan was involved in the auto and transportation business in HK, Canton, Chungking, Kunming and Burma. After the War, he was agent of American automobiles in seven provinces before moving to Hong Kong in 1947 and then moving to Tokyo where he started an auto dealership with an American partner.  In 1952, the Austin Motor Company (founded in 1905) merged with Morris Motors to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC). Although Morris had been represented by Dodwell Motors in HK, BMC decided to award the distributorship of Austin to Metro Cars.  

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Left: Chinese ad by Metro Cars for Austin 6 tons truck in 1962 (WKYP, 1962-6-5); Right: Ad for Austin 9 seater diesel van in 1960 – it mentioned an installment payment plan with 25% down and 30 monthly payments (WKYP, 1960-8-5) 

Although Bert Chan Young was trained as an accountant, he understood the importance of sales and marketing, advertised heavily and built a well-oiled sales organization. To achieve the latter, he hired a New Zealander by the name of W. Nichol MBE (聶高) as manager of the firm and a fellow clansman Chan Sum (陳森) as head of sales. Sales competitions were held and top prizes including trips to Europe and automobiles.  Chan Sum visited car shows and auto plants in the US and Europe every year and was also a noted amateur photographer. 

In 1957, Metro Cars sold a total of 1010 Austin automobiles in Hong Kong and for four consecutive years starting that year, Metro Cars was the top selling auto dealer in town. (WKYP, 1958-6-15) The 1957 Austin A55 Cambridge was also part of Hong Kong’s taxi fleet in the late 1950s and early ’60s,

In May 1957, Metro Cars opened its new service station on 121 King’s Road in North Point. The new station occupied 21000 sq ft and could store 150 cars. Inside the four floors structure, the first two floors were used for repairs and the top two floors were used for assembly of new vehicles and refurbishment of old ones. (WKYP, 1957-5-17) 

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Metro Cars’ new showroom at 745 Nathan Road in 1958 (WKYP, 1958-12-23) 

In December 1958, Metro opened its new Kowloon showroom at 745 Nathan Road and converted its 132 Tai Po Road location to sales of used cars. (WKYP, 1958-12-23) 

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Metro Cars sales competition in 1959, right to left: Chan Sum, Bertrand Chan Young,champion Ho Kwok-kam (何國鋆), cars category champion Leung Kit-man (梁傑民), W. Nichol (WKYP, 1959-6-7) 

In addition to the local market, Metro Cars also sold cars into the mainland and advertised in pro-Beijing newspaper, the first representative of non-Communist car manufacturers to do so. In 1957, the firm won a contract from the Chinese National Transport Machinery Import Corporation of Canton to supply 76 l.w.b. 5-ton trucks with 4-litre petrol engines and the contract was worth approximately US$252,000.  (British Automobiles Overseas, 1957) 

In early 1961, Metro Cars sent their staff for training at Crypton, the largest car repair shop un the UK and later installed the Crypton line of electronic testing and repair equipment. Later in the summer, the firm secured the distributorship of American Motors’ Rambler line of cars. The firm celebrated its 8th anniversary at the Ying King restaurant in Wanchai in July with 600 attendees and handing out prizes for its top sales in the overall, sedan, trucks and used cars categories (WKYP, 1961-7-30) 

In 1963, Metro Cars achieved the same sales volume of Austin automobiles in HK as Canada (although still behind Australia and New Zealand) and sales champion Shek Yiu-fai (石堯輝) received a free Austin from the British Motors Corporation. (TKP, 1963-11-02) In 1964, two winners of the sales contest were given free trips to the UK and continental Europe. 

In March 1966, Borneo Limited (which had acquired Gibb Livingston & Co in 1961) acquired Metro Cars. Nichol remained in charge of Metro and became a director of Gibb while a director of Borneo and Gibb joined the Metro board. (KSEN, 1966-3-22) 

After the sale, Bert Chan Young returned to Australia in 1967 where he died in 1972 at the age of 68. His widow Cheng Kit-wan (陳鄭潔雲) was very active with various organizations such as the Western District Women’s Association and South China Athletic Association and donated generously to various charitable causes. In 1989, Cheng Kit-wan sponsored the establishment of the Endeavourers Chan Cheng Kit Wan Kindergarten (勵志會陳鄭潔雲幼稚園) in Chai Wan and the Sheng Kung Hui Chan Young Secondary School in Sheung Shui. In August 1966, Chan Sum also retired from Metro after 13 years of service at the firm.  (WKYP, 1966-08-17)

Around this time, a series of corporate events took place at British Motors, the parent company of Austin and Borneo Ltd, the parent company of Metro. In December 1966, British Motors took over Jaguar and 13 months later, merged with Leyland Motors, the maker of Standard-Triumph, Rover and Alvis cars and Leyland trucks and buses to form British Leyland Motor Corporation under pressure from the British government. In 1967, the Inchcape Group acquired Borneo Limited 

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Right Soccer star Cheung Chi-doy (張子岱) with Metro’s sales manager Song Hau-chi and his new Mini Cooper in 1969 (KSEN, 1969-1-29) 

In November 1967, Metro Cars rolled out the Servishell electronic testing service at its North Point head office, charging $3-10 for electronic testing of vehicles (KSDN, 1967-11-16)  

In January 1969, Metro Cars opened a showroom in Tsuen Wan at 84 Chai Wan Kwok Street occupying 30000 sq ft. The showroom was opened by Sir Hugh Mackay-Tallack (1912-1989), the head of Inchcape with him presenting the keys to Cheung Chi-doy, the soccer star and buyer of a new Mini Cooper. The plans were to expand the showroom to a 2 story, 20000 sq ft building at the cost of HK$1 million, which was one of the largest truck assembly plant in Hong Kong (KSDN, 1969-1-29). The manager of the new New Territories branch was Song Hau-chi (宋孝慈), former executive committee member of Football Federation. The Tsuen Wan branch was quickly followed by another branch in Yuen Long which was also headed by Song (WKYP, 1969-12-6) 

In March 1970, W. Nichol retired to New Zealand after living 32 years in Hong Kong and working for Metro for over 17 years. He was succeeded by Alan Dingle, who was sales director. (WKYP, 1970-3-18) In September 1970, Metro Cars was renamed Metro-Dodwell Motors after its merger with Dodwell Motors. In 1972, Dodwell & Co was also acquired by Inchcape. 

Unable to compete with the Japanese and Germans, Austin as an auto brand was discontinued in 1987. 

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Left: Chan Sum with W. Nichol in 1961 before his trip to the US and Europe (WKYP, 1961-9-20); Right: Alan Dingle as chairman of Metro Cars with his picture (KSDN, 1970-3-25) 

Sources (other than those cited above)

This article was first posted on 11th November 2019.

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