In Memoriam: John Sohl [1915-2010]
John Sohl, founder of Auto Driveaway Company, died Feb. 14 of congestive heart failure at his home in Gainesville, Fla. He was 94.
Sohl started Auto Driveaway in Philadelphia in 1952, primarily delivering cars from the East Coast to Florida. He then franchised offi ces in Boston, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Miami. In 1960, Sohl became aware of a similar driveaway business (AAA Driveaway) that delivered used cars from the auto auctions in the Chicago area. He purchased the business and moved his family to Chicago.
John Sohl (left), founder of Auto Driveaway, and son Brandon
Sohl, past president of Auto Driveaway, display a picture of the first car John Sohl ever shipped, a 1952 Ford. The photo was presented to John Sohl at the company's 50th anniversary celebration in 2002.
In the early 1970s, Auto Driveaway became a regulated Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) carrier. During the late '70s and '80s, Auto Driveaway expanded to more than 75 offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, including Hawaii. During this period, the company was the primary motor home delivery service for Winnebago Industries in Iowa, delivering more than 5,000 recreational vehicles per year. The business changed from private snowbird deliveries to corporate deliveries of fl eet vehicles for Fortune 500 companies.
Auto Driveaway became a franchisor in 1999 after the deregulation of the motor carrier industry. During peak years, the business shipped more than 40,000 vehicles and grossed more than $18 million. From 2000 on, primary customers included large leasing companies such as ARI, Wheels, GE Capital Fleet Services, PHH Arval, and Motorlease.
Auto Driveaway celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2002.
Sohl retired that year, after spending 50 years in the automotive industry. The business was sold to the franchisees in 2004. According to his son Brandon, past-president of Auto Driveaway, "He was a true entrepreneur, starting a business from scratch and building it into a major service organization."