Driving Miss Annie

As president of Hawaii Auto Dealers Association, Aloha Kia owner Bill Van Den Hurk and his faithful companion Annie are looking forward to seeing you at the 2015 First Hawaiian International Auto Show next weekend

Despite America’s long-time love affair with the automobile, we tend to vilify anyone associated with our beloved cars. There are, of course, the stories of gouging, lying mechanics who make up the names of belts just to get $300 more out of us, and the “blood-from-a-stone” insurance companies that will gladly take our money but are so reticent to pay it out.


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If you've seen an Aloha Kia commerical, then you recognize Annie, faithful companion of Aloha Kia's Bill van den Hurk, who, as president of Hawaii Auto Dealers Association, welcomes all to the 2015 First Hawaiian International Auto Show March 13-15 at Hawaii Convention Center | Photo by Nathalie Walker

But worst of all, the ones nearly all Americans seem to agree upon as most reviled are the car dealers themselves.

We portray them as conniving in movies (Fargo, Cadillac Man, Suckers), battle them in our legislatures with lemon laws, and place the experience of buying a car somewhere on the spectrum between an emergency root canal and being forced to sit next to your ex on a transcontinental flight.

Is this fair?

Certainly not, but a few bad apples can a reputation make. Just ask the American Staffordshire terrier, once a well-respected dog known for its loyalty, intelligence and grace. Yet, with the help of a few bad owners, this terrier now is known as a pit bull and may be the most-cringed-from dog on the planet.

So it is a perfect match that car dealer Bill van den Hurk, president of Hawaii Auto Dealers Association, has paired up with his rescue dog Annie the pit bull to repair the reputations of both.

“There are some things I would like to see us accomplish as dealers. I believe our reputation is a little bit not what everybody thinks,” says van den Hurk, who owns all seven KIA dealerships in the state. “We do a lot of things for the community — my two passions are Oahu SPCA and Hawaii Foodbank.

“There is a lot that other dealers do, as well … quite a bit with charities; dealers … are heavily involved in Make-A-Wish — I don’t know exactly what everybody does, but most dealers are good-hearted people. It always has been in my thoughts that you have to give back.”

These dealers, along with a slew of car clubs, high-end sports cars and a hydrogen car from Toyota, all will be on display March 13-15, when the 2015 First Hawaiian International Auto Show comes to Hawaii Convention Center.

There will be pizza giveaways and test drives on a roadway course around the convention center, along with eye candy for car enthusiasts — from Ferraris to Maseratis to Bentleys.

Van den Hurk’s feelings about cars mirror many of ours, seeing the automobile as an extension of himself. But his relationship as a dealer with the community goes all the way back to his experience with his first car, a 1959 Volkswagen Beetle. He bought it from a dealer in his native Ontario, Canada, where the roads are heavily salted because of all the snow. The first time he went through a big puddle, water came right through the floorboards at him because the salt had rusted out the bottom of the car. He drove the car back to the dealership to complain, only to find the business had just been sold to a new owner.

“As I am pulling into the lot to complain about the car, a new sign is going up, HJ Pfaff Motors,” recalls van den Hurk, who was a shoe salesman at the time. “But I went in and told him that I bought it there from this other owner two weeks ago, and he said, ‘I understand.’

“He put the car on the lift, looked at it and said, ‘That has to be fixed.’ So he paid my brother, who was a body man, to fix it. What a nice man. So I came back to thank him, and he told me if I ever got interested in the automobile business to give him a call.”

This simple gesture — van den Hurk estimates it cost the dealer about $50 to fix — formed the next half-century that van den Hurk spent in the car business and in life as a whole: Even if it isn’t your problem, do what you can to help whomever you can.