Family Fueled

Family Fueled

URBANA — When the longtime family-operated Ed Napleton Automotive Group buys a new dealership, it's usually one that's unsuccessful or struggling, Brian Napleton said.

That wasn't the case with its newest acquisition — the former O'Brien Auto Park in Urbana — newly renamed Napleton's Auto Park, he said.

"This one is very well-run and sells a lot of cars," Napleton said.

The Westmont-based Ed Napleton Automotive Group finalized the purchase this past Tuesday, acquiring the business from majority owner Joe O'Brien and company president Jim Turner for an undisclosed sum.

Napleton, the fourth generation working in his family car business, said the former O'Brien Auto Park has great people on board. And while there will be some tweaking under the new ownership, much will also remain the same.

Turner will remain running the auto park, with Napleton assisting him and coming to Urbana from suburban Chicago several times a month, Napleton said.

The approximately 200 employees will keep their jobs, and some more hiring will be done, Napleton said. He predicts the dealership is going to be selling some more cars, "and I think we're going to need a bit more staff to get there."

No major remodeling is planned, Napleton said. He called the existing buildings "beautiful."

Under the Napleton ownership, the auto park will continue to handle the Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen and Scion franchises.

And the flavor of the operation will remain local, he said. Operating as a local business has helped build this auto group's success, he said, and the Napleton group wants that to continue.

"We have no intention of making it a Chicago feel," he said.

The former O'Brien Auto Park moved to its current $22 million complex on 42 acres near the Cunningham Avenue/Interstate 74 interchange in 2006. Its genesis includes Prospect Mitsubishi opened by Turner in 1990 and a Hyundai franchise he opened the following year and Shelbys in Urbana, which he and O'Brien acquired in 1997.

With this latest purchase, the Ed Napleton Automotive Group owns 31 dealerships in five states — 17 in Illinois, three in St. Peters, Mo., one in Pennsylvania, one in Georgia and nine in Florida, Brian Napleton said.

Ed Napleton Automotive Group sells cars in a wide price range — from Kia and Hyundai on up to Porsche and Aston Martin.

"This is our first Toyota store," Napleton said. "We are very excited about that."

The first Napleton store was launched by Brian Napleton's great-grandfather, Edward W. Napleton, in 1931. Brian said his grandfather, Francis Napleton, continued the business, and his father, Ed Napleton, 64, has continued in the car business with his five of his brothers.

Brian Napleton, 33, said he started working in the parts department for his grandpa when he was 6 years old and has been involved in various jobs ever since. He has a brother and two sisters also working in the business.

He's enjoyed his visits to Champaign-Urbana so far, he said, and has a goddaughter who is a freshman at the University of Illinois.

"I really can't believe how nice everybody is," he said. "Everywhere I've been, everyone is really good people, friendly and professional. I'm happy to head down here once a month."

Plans for the Urbana auto park include growing the business and boosting its online presence to pull in customers from a broader area, Napleton said.

Turner said the business currently sells cars to people in a radius of 60-75 miles.

The deal with Ed Napleton Automotive Group has been in the works for a year and employees were told about it April 1, he said.

"We see it as a great opportunity for us to sort of use the size of the Napleton group to our advantage," Turner said.

The 59-year-old Turner said he views the operation of the auto park going forward as "business as usual," but with some enhancements to the customer experience.

"We look forward to some new ideas and new thinking, and more support from the company to help us grow our business," he said.

Fast facts

Edward W. Napleton's first automotive business on Chicago's South Side was Napleton Buick Service Station.

Napleton's first dealership was a DeSoto franchise.

Third-generation owner Edward F. "Ed" Napleton began his career as a child sweeping dealership floors and moved up through the ranks. At age 23, he was awarded a Pontiac dealership in Blue Island.

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