Mike McNaughton

Kelston Motor Group supremo Mike McNaughton’s stellar career in the vehicle industry has been honoured with a Volkswagen Lifetime Achievement Award.

Since founding Kelston in 1996, managing director McNaughton has grown the group to almost 20 franchise operations, including 16 dealerships, three tyre fitment centres, a body shop and small logistics business.

His famed attention to detail, drive to exceed expectations when it comes to customer service and nose for innovation have made him one of the most astute and respected minds in the business.

McNaughton, from Gqeberha, received the accolade at Kariega-headquartered Volkswagen South Africa’s Grand Prix Awards, held at The Galleria in Sandton recently.

The Lifetime Achievement Award honours individuals who have dedicated their lives to making significant contributions to and leaving a lasting legacy on the Volkswagen brand, their community and the industry at large.

“The award was for me a culmination of a career with a brand I have been extraordinarily privileged to represent,” McNaughton said.

“Receiving this among a group of my peers and colleagues was an exceptionally emotional experience which I will not forget.”

The carmaker certainly holds a special place in McNaughton’s heart. His decision to purchase the VW dealership in then Uitenhage with the help of business partners Jannie Potgieter and Stephen Dondolo in 1996 was effectively the launchpad for everything that was to come.

Mike McNaughton

Kelston Motor Group managing director Mike McNaughton (right) has been honoured with a Volkswagen Lifetime Achievement Award. With him is VW South Africa national sales manager Ryan Searle: Supplied

At the time the dealership had one salesperson, a single demo and three cars in stock – two of which were used.

But his dealership grew in stature and became Market Square Volkswagen, today known as Kelston Volkswagen Uitenhage. It was inducted into the prestigious Club of Excellence seven times and won the Dealer Micro Group of the Year in 2020.

In 2005, McNaughton was awarded the Golden Pin and, in 2009, the Diamond Pin, both of which were bestowed at events in Germany.

In the mid-2000s the group acquired Volkswagen Grahamstown and in the mid-2010s, Volkswagen Queenstown. This was after McNaughton entered into a partnership that ran for 17 years with Dirk Ellis of Humansdorp, which allowed for further expansion.

Today, the Kelston Motor Group sells upwards of 6 000 cars per year across its brands and employs more than 700 people thanks to his winning formula of putting people at the centre of every transaction.

“Buying a car or bakkie is often a big decision and is in many cases either the biggest or second biggest purchase a person makes,” he said.

“As such, the consumer often likes to deal with a person and we have many examples of people buying the car from the person irrespective of the brand.”

Kelston’s community-based sales model was based on a question of trust in both the salesperson and the brand, he added.

McNaughton is a stickler for honesty and transparency, believing that every person should be treated the way they expect others to treat them.

He is also a big one for tackling issues head on, rather than putting them off for another day. By adopting this approach, “you are more likely to make a friend from an enemy”.

The motoring entrepreneur will always remember a sage piece of advice from Alf Debs, a businessman he knew in his younger days, who encouraged him to own the premises from which he traded.

He credits this for helping him build a business of scale.

Steffen Knapp, head of the Volkswagen Passenger Car brand, said the Volkswagen Grand Prix Awards was a testament to the hard work, devotion and exceptional service delivered by the automaker’s dealer network.

“We extend our heartfelt congratulations to all the winners and express our gratitude for their invaluable contributions to the success of the Volkswagen brand.”