As early as the 1900s, the pioneers of the automobile industry recognized the significance of Florida, becoming a playground for the development of auto dealerships. Much like the dizzying array of makes and models that allure buyers today, the first auto dealers in Florida presented a variety of marques to satisfy the newfound consumer interest.

Cities like Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, renowned for their bustling commerce, were the locations of these first dealerships. The Ford Model T, proclaimed as the car that “put America on wheels,” was prominently showcased at these dealerships. Here, Florida echoed the nation’s enthusiasm for Henry Ford’s modern marvel, sparking a transportation revolution.

Early Players in The Game

The industry’s pioneering spirit reached Florida early in the 20th century. In the bustling streets of Jacksonville, 1910 marked a significant milestone with the establishment of Potter Motor Car Company. As the first successful auto dealer in the Sunshine State, it held exclusive licenses to sell Cadillac and Oldsmobile — two major marques of the era. Potter’s presence signified the advent of Florida’s automotive age.

Making Strides in Tampa

Meanwhile, in Tampa, J.C. Turner Auto Company quickly gained a reputation for its quality service and extensive offerings. The company proudly showcased the innovative Buick line-up to locals, further fueling the excitement for novel modes of transportation. The fascinating spectacle of gleaming new automobiles in a showroom setting was a sight to behold. The advent of J.C. Turner Auto truly marked a turning point in the car industry’s permeation into Florida’s business landscape.

Miami Joins the Race

Miami was soon immersed in this burgeoning trend. The Seminole Auto Shop emerged in 1912 with a broad range of marques, catering to the city’s growing population of auto enthusiasts. The shop’s diverse offerings reflected the diverse interests of the populace, presenting an exciting tableau of automotive evolution right in the heart of Miami.

However, many credit Miami with having the first auto dealership in Florida. The South Florida Automobile Company opened its dealership selling steam-powered cars in 1903. Sources vary between crediting The South Florida Automobile Company and the Potter Motor Car Company as the first official auto dealership in Florida. There are also some that credit Fred E. Gilbert as opening the first auto dealership. Gilbert had an auto garage in Jacksonville, and was credited as the first person to run a car ad in a newspaper in Florida.

Rapid Expansion and Competition

With the auto industry gaining momentum in Florida, the air was thick with competition. Auto dealers in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami were no longer the sole players in the game. The emergence of new dealerships across the state led to increased competition. As a response to this burgeoning landscape, innovative strategies had to be devised by the dealers to lead the race.

Ford Enters Florida

The first Ford car factory in Florida was established in Jacksonville in 1924. Known as the Jacksonville Assembly Plant, this facility initially assembled the famous Model T, followed by Model A and V-8 models. This plant, besides marking Florida’s position in the automobile manufacturing scene, also set in motion the more significant growth of the auto industry in the state. It remained in operation until 1932, significantly contributing to Jacksonville’s early 20th-century industrial expansion.

The Power of Innovation

Offering more than just the physical product, these trailblazing auto dealers began concurring ways to enhance their service side of the business. They innovated synchronized automobile displays to allure potential buyers and set up roadside services to assist their customers. Guaranteeing additional benefits such as extended warranty and comprehensive maintenance packages became a common strategy. These initiatives served dual purposes – appealing to the customers’ convenience needs and instilling a sense of brand loyalty.

Embracing this new business trend, smaller cities like Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale were quick to integrate auto dealerships into their business landscape. As dealerships dotted the map of Florida, it was clear the state was driving full speed ahead into a new era. It was the dawn of auto dealerships becoming a mainstay in Florida’s economic fabric.

Impact of Auto Dealerships on Florida’s Economy

how many jobs are there in the Florida auto industryThroughout the past century, the relevance and impact of the auto industry, specifically the auto dealership segment, in Florida have surged exponentially. Backed by compelling statistics, this remarkable growth signifies a transformation of Florida into an economically robust powerhouse that ceaselessly continues its expansion in the auto trade sector.

At present, the Sunshine State boasts a staggering total of over 850 franchised auto dealerships, according to the Florida Automobile Dealers Association. It’s not just the sale and service of vehicles these dealerships excel at; they have become cornerstones of employment opportunities. From salespersons to mechanics, management to customer service, the auto trade industry offers diverse job roles, employing a workforce exceeding 100,000 Floridians. This significant figure showcases the auto industry’s substantial contribution to bolstering the state’s employment rate.

Beyond providing employment, the auto dealerships massively contribute to Florida’s economic resilience by furnishing a considerable portion of the state’s tax revenue. The revenue, sourced from property and sales taxes levied on these dealerships, plays a pivotal role in boosting the state’s fiscal health. More importantly, these funds have been integral in spearheading improvements in public services and major infrastructure development projects across the state, facilitating Florida’s stride toward heightened prosperity.

Florida’s auto dealership industry, from its humble beginnings with the likes of Potter Motor Car Company and J.C. Turner Auto, has grown into an influential sector driving Florida’s economic surge. Engaging in innovative strategies, paving the way for modern service models, and focusing on diversified offerings, these early pioneers made Florida a cornerstone of the US auto industry. Today, the industry supports over 100,000 jobs and forms an essential part of the state’s revenue stream. This historical journey speaks volumes about the robust growth of Florida’s auto dealer industry, all while indicating the potential for future innovation and expansion.



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