The "driveaway" business has become an integral part of the automotive transportation industry in this country. There are many companies offering these services on local and larger levels. Auto Driveaway is currently celebrating their 30th anniversary in the business, and a look at how they were formed, grew and matured into their present operation is a story which closely parallels the growth of the entire driveaway industry - Editor
"Identifying a need and filling it is what has made us successful" observes John F. Sohl, President and founder of Auto Driveaway Co. The need this company has filled is one that this country's fleet administrators face daily: the transportation of vehicles throughout the U.S. and Canada. The company was founded in 1952 and during the past 30 years Sohl has made Auto Driveaway into the biggest drive away service in America.
In itself a unique though small segment of American business, the driveaway service had its genesis in Detroit, Michigan in 1932. In an attempt to find an economical way of transporting new 1932 Cadillacs from Detroit to California, Catherine Raye began using travelers en route to California as drivers, trading free travel plus fuel expenses, for delivery services. The use of these unpaid "casual" drivers, rather than truck or rail transport, reduced freight charges by approximately $500 a car. Today "casual" drivers are still the backbone of the driveaway business, though Auto Driveaway has a number of contingent on-call professional drivers who, at a higher rate, deliver vehicles to meet corporate sector deadlines. In addition, very few trucking operations then had nationwide shipping authority. Thus vehicles would frequently have to be transferred two or three times en route, aggravating both time schedules and budgets. What developed was a need for a method of vehicle transportation which was reasonable, faster and more efficient than rail or truck. Trucking companies catering to vehicle manufacturers were not interested in providing practical service to shippers with one or two vehicles. Corporations had no alternative but to accept slow, costly service or use their own employees to drive the vehicles where they were needed.
By 1952 small driveaway operations had mushroomed across the country. Mr. George Humpfer, then operations manager of Automotive Rental, Inc., and friend of the Sohl family, saw the driveaway method used successfully in the Detroit and Chicago areas. He suggested that John Sohl begin a driveaway business in the Philadelphia area, since no driveaway operation existed in the states between New York and Florida. With $200 for operating expenses, Sohl accepted the challenge and won the gamble. His unique service was of great benefit to the fleet market, automobile wholesalers and dealers, banks, credit unions, and individuals in the area.
All of the driveaway companies which were set up in the early 1950's limited their operations to transport originating at their base of operations. It became apparent to Sohl that a network of offices would be required to more completely satisfy the requirements of commercial shippers. Over the next several years Sohl established offices in Boston, Pittsburgh, Denver, Los Angeles, and Miami.
Because the driveaway industry operated as an unregulated transportation cntity during these early years, a number of nomadic operations were opened which gave less than satisfactory service. Frequently these businesses would ignore customers' needs, abandon vehicles, and often rent out cars scheduled to be moved. When financial claims upon these operations exceeded their revenues, they would simply close, relocate in a more pleasant clime and open up again under a different name. About 1963 the Interstate Commerce Commission determined driveaway to be a transportation service rather than a temporary help operation. With this recognition came government regulation, and many of the fragrant. Unprofessional operations were prosecuted.
During this period of fluctuation and change, Auto Driveaway, working on Sohl's premise of seeing a need and filling it, continued to grow. Soon Sohl had operations in cities in the 35 largest market population areas.
The establishment of a group of offices, located at diverse points in the U.S., but managed by a national headquarters, allowed fleet administrators to deal with only one company on a nationwide basis, rather than seeking out a different local operation in every city in which they might require service.
In 1977, Brandon Sold, bringing with him five years of banking experience, began driveaway's second generation. His background in business and financial management enabled the company to expand its corporate structure. What began as a one-office operation in Philadelphia developed info an efficient nationwide company directed by experts specializing in corporate management.
Now the oldest and largest driveway service in America, Auto Driveaway is also the only operation to offer the public a U.S. Canada network of over 80 offices. According to Brandon Sold, "It is this smoothly functioning network which is the real key to our success in saving both money and time for the corporate customer." He explains that this saving is the result of Auto Driveaway's ability to place a driver in a vehicle at point of origin and transport the vehicle directly to the customer's desired destination. Corporations no longer have to transport a driver to the vehicle location before the delivery task itself could begin, thus reducing the cost of transport. The continued use of "casual" drivers eliminates the need of paying substantial wages, return transportation and "down-time" for return trips.
In spite of the uncertain economic conditions which prevailed during 1981, Auto Driveaway transported well over 40,000 vehicles. According to John Sohl, "As corporations look more closely at their costs, the driveaway method can only become more and more responsive to their needs." Brandon intends to expand the national advertising program to make more people aware of the company's expanded ability to provide continued economic advantages of transportation via driveaway.
in 1980 Auto Driveaway began to computerize a part of its records. Brandon Sohl plans extensive use of the computer to identify growing market areas so that offices can be established in anticipation of the needs of the shipping public. He also sees the computer providing greater tracking facilities so that shippers may be even better informed as to the progress of any dispatched vehicles.
Estimates for the year 2000 suggest that roughly fifty million more automobiles will be on the roads. Sohl's management staff recognizes that growth in the transportation business is inevitable. As the future unfolds Auto Driveaway will continue to expand its service as a driveaway operation. Paramount in this program of expansion are three service areas: driveaway transportation of large trucks and buses in single and combination movements, the expansion of its professional delivery service to meet the emergency needs of shippers and the addition of truckaway service for those shippers whose needs extend beyond driveaway.
With its expanded combination service Auto Driveaway will be able to provide the economical movement of vehicles on behalf of leasing and corporate fleet administrators by providing a professional driver with the capability of transporting several vehicles using only one as a power unit.
Soon Auto Driveaway will offer a truckaway service which will he unique in the industry. No existing truckaway operation catering to private shippers or corporate shippers with only a few vehicles can provide a network of offices with the capabilties of Auto Driveaway. Shipments of "classic cars," cars which must arrive at their destination without additional mileage or those vehicles which are not sufficiently road-worthy to make an extended trip, will be trucked.
The future of Auto Driveaway is the future of big business. Like any other business Auto Driveaway has had its share of successes and disappointments. The expansion of the network and the ability to service a greater variety of vehicle transportation needs will give Auto Driveaway even a greater public to serve. The reregulation of I.C.C. practices which has given more authority to more carriers may impair the balance between public shippers and carrier operations. But Auto Driveaway has developed a valuable heritage of customer service which has enabled it to become the leader in this specialized industry.
The driveaway business has come a long way since the days of nomadic operations doing business from phone booths and signing delivery contracts in the back seat of the car to be transported. John and Brandon Sohl have brought to Auto Driveaway perseverance, imagination, and a genuine concern for the shipping public. They look forward to the next 30 years in the transportation service industry.