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Kiwi service shines

New cars are expensive but used cars are generally cheaper than here.

But that's what I discovered three weeks ago when I wandered into a Lexus dealership in Auckland, New Zealand, to pick up a car for reviewing while I was in the Shaky Isles.

Out the front of the showroom was a fellow in a white shirt, tie and trousers with a chamois wiping down a Lexus IS 350 (pictured above outside a Hawke's Bay vineyard).

I asked him to show me the office of the general manager Peter Carleton. He said he was Mr Carleton. How often do you find at a luxury dealership, or any dealership for that matter, the boss putting the finishing touches to a car for delivery?

That task is usually the role of the detailers, but in this case it was the chief making sure the car was in tip-top condition. He then went out of his way to show me around the Great North Rd premises of Lexus of Auckland City (pictured), one of six Lexus dealerships in NZ and the only stand-alone premises in NZ.

Normally they are attached to Toyota premises. Mr Carleton said the NZ luxury market was small and extremely competitive yet their dealership was the best Lexus in the country and attention to detail and customer service were paramount.

He is proud of their service and workshops and they have even installed a large window in the waiting lounge overlooking the main workshop so customers can see their car being worked on. The dealership has run out of room in the workshop and has expanded next door as well. Mr Carleton said the prestige franchises were under pressure from grey importers bringing in near-new marques from the UK for tens of thousands of dollars less than the equivalent new model in NZ.

He said Lexus was not being impacted as much as the Germans but, once again, top service was the key to attracting and retaining customers. I love driving in NZ because the roads are better built, wider and with the right cambers than here. Venture off the main roads and highways into the countryside and the roads are generally top notch, free of traffic, speed cameras and police. Roads are many and varied so you can explore a car's limits safely.

On the main highways there are plenty of overtaking lanes with long stretches, unlike the awful Bruce Highway between Cairns and Brisbane. New cars are expensive but used cars are generally cheaper than here, mainly because of the influx of grey imports from Japan and Europe. Petrol is costly. At one stage premium unleaded was $2.30 and a 65-litre tank cost $130 to fill. Ouch.