Story: Workshop industries

Page 3. From coachbuilding to panel beating

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Despite the growing domestic market, not all workshop industries followed the trend of expanding to factory size. Small workshop industries such as saddlers, furniture makers, blacksmiths, coachbuilders, soap works, tailors and small brickworks continued operating into the 20th century. However, very few of those survived into the 21st century, as new technology and cheaper freight replaced small-scale craft production with cheaper imported products.

Faced with this foreign competition, many workshops shifted from manufacture to repair. Among bootmakers, repair work replaced manufacturing from about 1900. Many watchmakers were forced to give up manufacturing even earlier. Coachbuilding is an example of a local workshop industry that survived and even grew into the early 20th century.

Making coaches in New Zealand

Horse-drawn coaches were generally too bulky to import in large quantities, and from the mid-19th century they were made and serviced in New Zealand.

Some local coachbuilders made models especially designed for New Zealand conditions. The Auckland firm of Cousins and Cousins produced the speedy Auckland Roadster gig, the Waikato buggy and the Spring dray, ideal for transporting milk cans to creameries.

By 1916 there were 183 coachbuilders in New Zealand, employing an average of eight staff. However, this buoyant workshop industry was eliminated by the invention of the motor car.

From making coaches to repairing cars

The first cars imported into New Zealand did not immediately displace the horse and cart. However, by the mid-1920s New Zealand had the highest rate of vehicle ownership per capita outside the United States.

Highly trained coachbuilders tried to adapt their skills to the automotive assembly industry, and the government placed tariffs on imported cars to encourage local assembly. As vehicle technology advanced, the industry required a knowledge of motor engineering beyond the scope of local coachbuilders. Instead a panel beating industry, often staffed by former coachbuilders, developed to repair and service the steadily increasing numbers of automobiles in New Zealand.

In the 2000s almost every small town in New Zealand had at least one panel beating and automotive workshop.

How to cite this page:

Ian Hunter, 'Workshop industries - From coachbuilding to panel beating', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/workshop-industries/page-3 (accessed 17 November 2019)

Story by Ian Hunter, published 11 Mar 2010