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Brave face remains as dealership legacy

CAR dealer Colin Houghton is putting on a brave face following the appointment of receivers to the 64-year old business by the financing arm of automotive giant Ford.

Mr Houghton, who took over control of the Houghton family business in 1987 after becoming involved in 1976, said he was surprised receivers were called in because there were enough assets in the company to cover the debt exposure of more than $10 million.

Receivers from the accounting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu are continuing to trade Houghton’s dealerships in Victoria Park, Fremantle and Karratha, with Mr Houghton remaining at the helm for the time being, at least while a buyer is sought.

Mr Houghton told Business News that, at this stage, he was not contemplating a life without Houghton Motors, although there were many other business interests he could turn his hand to.

He said the past year had been very difficult for him, his wife and three children, but they were over-whelmed by the positive response received from friends and the general business community.

“It’s a situation we would rather not be in but we are focused on trying to work through the trading difficulties,” Mr Houghton said.

The business was started by Mr Houghton’s father, Cliff, as a service station, following the Great Depression in 1937.

The business quickly expanded to include a car sales yard

and smash repair business.

In 1946 the firm acquired the Ford franchise. The company now employs about 170 staff.

Mr Houghton said the worst thing for the family and the staff was the uncertainty of what would happen.

Receiver David Coates did not return the calls made by Business News.

Poor WA economic conditions, a drop in Ford’s market share, changes in the tax system and franchise laws had all culminated to create a difficult trading environment.

As fate would have it, Houghton took over the long-standing Backshall Ford dealership in Fremantle 18 months ago, only to discover that Main Roads was doing major road works, which effectively cut the Fremantle business to nothing for about nine months – placing added stresses on the already troubled business.

In 1999 Ford tried to bring Ford’s dealerships into one company – a move resisted by Houghton, Nuford and McInerney Ford.

Ford Australia’s share of the new car market is the worst it has been in almost 40 years.

Figures from VFACTS shows Ford’s market share for the first five months of this year had slipped to 13.7 per cent, compared with 18.8 per cent in 1999 and 28.6 per cent in 1987.

In May, Holden was the market leader with 23.6 per cent of new-vehicle sales, Toyota with 17 per cent, Ford 13.6 per cent and Mitsubishi 7.9 per cent.

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