A driving force

Tom Grimm leads the Gainesville New Auto Dealers Association

Tom Grimm is the president of the Gainesville New Car Dealers Association and general manager of Palm Chrysler-Subaru.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, December 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, November 30, 2003 at 10:00 p.m.



  • PERSONAL: married, three children
  • CAR HE DRIVES: Chrysler Pacifica
  • LAST BOOK READ: "Jack: Straight from the Gut," autobiography of Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric
  • LAST MOVIE SEEN: "Finding Nemo"
  • BEST ADVICE RECEIVED: "Always give 120 percent," from his father
  • HIS GUIDING LIGHT: To always exceed customers' expectations.

  • Automobile sales are enjoying another fine year in Alachua County, but Tom Grimm knows that local car dealers are still losing out on a lot of business.
    Grimm is president of the Gainesville New Auto Dealers Association, a local trade group that strives to boost revenues for its members but also to improve the community, he said. The association's philosophy, Grimm said, is that higher car sales result in more tax dollars for Alachua County - which apparently has a lot of residents who buy cars out of town.
    In 2002, 40 percent of the vehicles that received automobile titles in Alachua County were purchased outside of the area, Grimm said. That translated into an estimated loss of $5 million in local tax dollars, he said.
    "Those are dollars that could be going to our local schools," said Grimm, 39. "It's a shame, because this county is very family-driven. There's no good reason why people should be traveling to Jacksonville or Ocala to buy a car, even if they're saving $100 or $200. Manufacturers sell their automobiles to dealers at the same price everywhere."
    Knowing that, Grimm said the association will try to create a little more visibility for itself in 2004. The group has 16 members and is also affiliated with statewide and national new auto dealer associations.
    Grimm is also general manager at Palm Chrysler-Subaru. He was the Gainesville auto association's president this past year and will keep the post for 2004.
    "Tom is doing a great job of networking and getting our message across to the public," said Joe Alvarez, a past president of the association and dealer/operator at Gainesville Ford-Mitsubishi. "He has a strong work ethic toward his own dealership as well as our association."
    Grimm has spent the better part of his life in the automobile business. During his youth in Indiana, he learned a few things from his father, who managed a General Motors dealership in that state.
    Following his high school graduation, Grimm moved to Fort Myers and started work as a salesman for the Palm franchise, which is based in Punta Gorda and owns 10 car dealerships around the state.
    For about 12 years, Grimm supervised Palm's network of used car businesses. He came to Gainesville in January 2001 when Palm purchased the local Chrysler-Subaru dealership.
    "I've pretty much been on a car lot since I was 11 years old," Grimm said.
    For a number of years, the Gainesville association had an annual car show at the O'Connell Center on the campus of the University of Florida to show off the latest models of its automobiles. It was canceled a couple of years ago, and Grimm said the group now wants to have a large-scale, cooperative auto sale somewhere in Alachua County for its big annual event.
    Finding a location has been difficult due to space needs for all the cars, he said.
    "You'll often see one dealer out at Butler Plaza showing off their cars, but we would need something to accommodate cars from all 16 of our dealers," Grimm said.
    Motor vehicle and parts dealers have earned $764.3 billion in sales nationally through October, a 6 percent increase from the same period in 2002, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Grimm said local sales might not match those reached in 2002, but it has still been a solid year.
    Even with the loss of out-of-town business, Grimm said Alachua County has proven to be a strong market for car sales. Residents in surrounding rural areas, which often don't have car dealerships, frequently come here to purchase their automobiles, he said.
    "This is a unique market," Grimm said. "Not only is it a college town, but you have a big medical community. There are so many different affluent people. Sales are very steady with few peaks and valleys, unlike what you see on a national level."
    Joe Coombs can be reached at (352) 338-3102 or

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