ST. CHARLES – This month, after more than 85 years under the same name, St. Charles’ Ford dealership is coming under new ownership, when the Zimmerman family bows out of the local auto sales business.
Earlier this month, the longtime owners of Zimmerman Ford completed the sale of the fixture in St. Charles’ business community to Hawk Ford of Oak Lawn.
Owner Jack Zimmerman confirmed the sale, saying the time had come for him “to go do something different.”
“I’ve been doing this for 36 years, and [the dealership] has been in the family for 86 years,” said Zimmerman. “I’m ready for something else.”
Zimmerman inherited the business founded and run for decades by his father and mother, Bill and Lois Zimmerman. Bill Zimmerman opened his first St. Charles car lot in 1931 and relocated the dealership to the present site at East Main Street and Dunham Road under the now locally inconic sign in the early 1960s. Bill Zimmerman died in 1999.
Lois Zimmerman followed her husband in death in 2004.
Jack Zimmerman operated the business with his brother, Michael, until Michael also died in 2014.
The dealership has been affiliated with Ford since 1958, and will remain so after the sale is completed, as the automaker has signed off on the sale to Hawk.
“Ford was in agreement with this,” Jack Zimmerman said. “They thought [Hawk] would be a good fit here in St. Charles, and they have an excellent track record with Ford.”
Jack Zimmerman said, under the deal, Hawk Ford has agreed to retain “the vast majority” of the staff at Zimmerman Ford, to reduce disruption and maintain customer loyalty. He said the employees have known of the pending sale “for months.”
The sale comes at a time of fast change in the auto industry, with still more change and disruption to come, he noted.
He said the most worrisome trend has been the continued upward surge in car prices, even as consumer incomes have largely stagnated, or at least not grown as quickly as the cost of a new vehicle.
“Even 10 years ago, it was so much easier to get the average guy into vehicles they could afford and that met their needs,” Jack Zimmerman said. “Now, it’s so much harder to make that work, and it’s made the automobile business harder and harder.”
He attributed the rise in prices to ever higher costs for steel and the other materials cars and their components are made from, and the price of the labor to assemble the vehicles.
And he said he is concerned new trends in the automotive industry will only make selling new vehicles to “the average guy” even more difficult.
On one hand, Jack Zimmerman said he worries the accelerating trend to offer more electric vehicles will add to the cost, while decreasing the convenience for customers, given the current general lack of range such vehicles hold compared to petroleum-powered engines and the overall lack of convenient and fast charging stations.
And he said, as Ford and other companies move ahead with plans to roll out a fleet of self-driving autonomous vehicles in coming years, the effects on the industry could be difficult to predict – except for price.
“There’s no doubt it’s going to happen, and probably sometime pretty soon, though not tomorrow,” said Jack Zimmerman. “There are still too many flaws that need to be worked out. But the price factor for these things [autonomous vehicles], it’s going to be a big deal.”
Jack Zimmerman, however, was less specific about what his next plans are, saying he prefers not to call his current state “retirement.”
“I suppose most people would call it that, but I just have some things I’d like to do,” he said. “Different things.”