This page describes the history of Todd Park - Mitsubishi Motors, the motor assembly plant in Porirua City for over 25 years.
Early in the 20th century, Todd Motors founder Charles Todd and his four sons, well-established as rural stock and station agents, moved in to the developing automotive business and opened a network of small repair garages. The business started with a single garage in Heriot in central Otago as Todd Brothers. Their timing was good and with increasing demand for vehicles, Todd Bros. soon started selling cars. They subsequently expanded to Wellington, and further within New Zealand. Todd Bros. secured the franchise for Gray cars from the United States, and then established a relationship with Chrysler in 1925, followed by the Rootes Group in the UK six years later.
In the mid-1930s Todd Motors set up a factory in Petone to assemble Chrysler and Rootes Group cars and trucks and steadily built up its dealer and support network around the country until it became, with its associated businesses, one of the largest companies in New Zealand.
By the end of the 1960s Todd Motors assembly facilities were spread between a complex of buildings on several sites at the western side of Petone. Increasing local demand for new motor vehicles provided considerable incentive to find better facilities to streamline and increase production. Todd Motors were also chasing the potentially lucrative Mitsubishi franchise after many decades spent assembling American and Australian vehicles.
Conveniently for Todd Motors, the Petone land was in demand by the government for the widening of the Western Hutt Road; additionally there was governmental interest in establishing substantial businesses in Porirua to help drive the area’s growth and autonomy, Porirua having attained "city" status in 1965. A favourable deal was cut where Todd Motors was provided a 33 hectare green-field site in Elsdon and assistance to relocate in exchange for their Petone land and cash for the difference in value of the two sites. Negotiations for the new site were concluded in September 1971. The planned move of a major employer was greeted enthusiastically by Porirua, especially as General Motors had earlier rejected a site in the area.
Design work for the buildings had started in 1970, based around new ideas of plant flexibility and production line design to enable the assembly of different kinds of vehicles at short notice with minimal change and down-time. The complex was designed by Stephenson & Turner with engineering consultants Beca Carter Hollings & Ferner and included the assembly plant, a cafeteria and administration building, three parking areas, case storage and new vehicle parking. The grounds landscape was designed by David Irving.
The complex was built very quickly - the massive earthworks required to prepare the site were commenced in 1972, with the first cars completed in the Assembly Plant building in January 1974. The Cafeteria was completed by this time; the Administration building at the end of 1974.
For the twenty-five years of their operation at Todd Park, Todd Motors was a major employer in the Porirua area and touched the lives of most people resident in the area in one way or another. Todd Park was known by the assembly workers as ‘The University on the Hill’. The complex contained three large lecture rooms for tutorial purposes and staff were encouraged to further their training and improve their skills. Those who showed aptitude were given every opportunity for personal advancement, and it was the making of many who worked there.
As government policy on trade tariffs and imports changed over the years, the local motor vehicle assembly industry became increasingly hard pressed to be cost competitive. Recognising the difficulty of competing in a changed market, Todd Motors eventually sold the assembly plant and dealer network to Mitsubishi in 1987. Despite increasingly difficult economic conditions, Mitsubishi continued to assemble vehicles in the facility until June 1998 when the entire plant was closed. Most Porirua families had a least one family member involved with Mitsubishi Motors or businesses associated with it. It was a big blow for the community when the plant closed. However, 85% of employees managed to find other work.
Various uses were considered for the complex over the next year but nothing eventuated and the entire complex was sold to Wellington investment company the St James Group in November 1999. In June 2001 the Administration building was sold and altered, principally with a new entrance structure on the south side, to serve as a tertiary institution. The Cafeteria building was acquired by the Wananga at the end of 2002 to extend the campus. The Assembly Plant is presently (2007) used as a logistics and storage facility by a variety of businesses.
For more information about Todd Park see Neil and June Penman's book "The University on the Hill. The History of Todd Park". The book was five year labour of love for the Titahi Bay couple which was completed in 2005. The beautifully produced hardback volume of 377 pages, including 498 photographs, documents every step of the plant's history from the arrival in New Zealand of pioneer Charles Todd in 1870 to the factory's closure on June 19, 1998.
Mr Penman became involved in writing the history after photographically documenting the last eight months of Todd Park. He felt there was a book in the plant's history and when no-one else took up the challenge, he did. It turned out to be a huge challenge both in time and finances. He and June, who had retired from their woodturning business, estimate they’ve spent 20,000 hours working on the history. There was a time when they thought they might have to mortgage their home to see it through. Neil, who had never written before, wrote the book in long hand and June typed it up, learning to use a computer as she went.
They later enlisted the help of an editor and proof reader to put the professional touches to the book, and have since had some financial assistance from Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand Ltd, Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, Mana Community Grants Trust and the Porirua Historical Association.
Mr Penman says it was important to document its history because Todd Park played a huge part in Porirua’s development.
"It was the making of Porirua. It was pivotal to its development. It was a dormitory suburb prior to (it's arrival), then all of a sudden we had a factory with up to 2000 people working in it. I really think Porirua never looked back after that."
They are thrilled with their achievement. "It's something, I think, to be proud of."
You can see a copy of the book at Porirua Library.
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