Lens Auto bringing Suzuki to Port Alfred

A well-known family-run automotive business in the Eastern Cape is spreading its wings with the opening of a Suzuki dealership in Port Alfred.

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Lens Auto from Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) is the owner of Hyundai in the historic town as well as the TyreMart, Lens Auto Sales (used cars) and Lens Auto Repairs. The business was established over four decades ago in the town known for the famous Rhodes University and the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court.

Later on, it expanded its operations to Port Alfred with another TyreMart and Lens Auto Sales, followed in March this year with the opening of a Suzuki dealership in the town, about a 40 minute-drive from the main business in Makhanda.

“We are extremely excited about our new Suzuki franchise, and the first three months of doing business have exceeded our expectations by far,” Steven van der Merwe, Dealer Principal and a Director of Lens Auto, tells Dealerfloor.

Thys Roberts (Suzuki Auto SA), Steven van der Merwe (DP) and Ryno Matthysen (Suzuki Auto SA).

“Our Suzuki showroom is in Port Alfred and the workshop and parts department at our established premises in Makhanda. Soon after we acquired the Hyundai franchise in 2007, we began a drop and go for Hyundai customers in Port Alfred to have their vehicles serviced in Makhanda. We will follow the same plan now for our new Suzuki customers in Port Alfred with their vehicles being serviced in Makhanda. Customers just need to drop their vehicle off at the Port Alfred showroom by 07:30 and we will have them ready for them to collect by 16:45.

“In small towns like Makhanda and Port Alfred, your reputation precedes you. The reason why we could keep going for over 40 years is the way my dad, Len, conducted business. Honesty, hard work and assisting people where possible to try and save them money form the foundation he laid.

The founders of Lens Auto, Len van der Merwe (right) and his wife Julia (left).

“My dad, now retired, and my mother, Julia, who is still active in the business, taught us the correct way to do things in a proper fashion to keep our customers coming back to us. While I run the vehicle dealerships, my brother Robert has taken charge of the TyreMart branches,” Steven says.

Asked about future plans regarding consolidating all the dealership divisions (sales and service) on one premises, Steven says the uncertainty about the future of the High Court in Makhanda keeps them from taking a decision at this stage.

“The High Court in Makhanda might move to Bisho and with Makhanda known and built on the foundations of education and law, such a move will have a severe impact in the town, which forces us to be cautious about immediate expansions plans.

“The motor industry is already going through deep waters so to speak and for us here in Makhanda the possible move of the court to another town will have a severe impact on business. That is why we are thankful and excited to have the opportunity to open Suzuki in Port Alfred,” he tells us.

Steven says that above and beyond the established relationship with customers in both towns and other surrounding areas, looking after your staff is vital. We are privileged to have a great team and we are constantly looking at ways to improve their circumstances and further their training.

“Another important relationship is between us and the two OEMs whose products we sell. We are truly impressed with the way Suzuki and Hyundai have engaged with us, and particularly with how our relationship with Suzuki South Africa kicked off. I feel that we are good ambassadors of the brands based on our track record – and while Suzuki is still new, we have been Hyundai Dealer of the Year twice before (2015 & 2022) and runner-up at last year’s awards,” Steven tells Dealerfloor.

Steven says although it is still too early to say if the third generation of Van der Merwe’s will follow in his and his father’s footsteps, we certainly hope at least one of them will. Steven himself spent four years working at a Land Rover dealership and 10 years at a Mercedes-Benz dealer, both in London in the United Kingdom before returning to South Africa in 2012.

“I hope that we will have more certainty regarding our High Court in the near future and a stable political landscape going forward, all being factors that influence business conditions. For now, we are super excited about Suzuki opening in Port Alfred as their vehicles are coming in at the right price point for our market and have a great value-for-money offering, along with a very good reputation for reliability and excellent fuel consumption.

“Suzuki backs their product with a 5-year/200 000 km warranty on all their passenger vehicles. As an established brand, they are going to make serious inroads in this part of the world,” Steven concludes.

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