Company - History

More than 140 years of intelligence.

Founded by Ralph Lane Polk in 1870, R. L. Polk & Co. has a long and rich history. In the beginning, the company flourished as an enumerated directory publishing firm. Its first gazetteer contained the names of 17,500 residents and 600 professionals and trades people along the Detroit and Milwaukee railway.

Throughout the early years, Polk gained a reputation for impartial data collection and reporting through its publication of city directories throughout the U.S. It is this reputation that spurred Alfred P. Sloan, president and later chairman of General Motors, to ask Ralph Lane Polk II to impartially tabulate and publish automotive statistics in the early 1920s. Shortly thereafter, Polk began its role as an automotive information and solutions provider by publishing its first Passenger Car Registration Report, covering 58 makes and accounting for 9.2 million passenger automobiles on America’s highways. The company has been a key partner to the automotive industry ever since.

Polk quickly integrated with the automotive world and began supporting the industry through statistical reporting and analyses. By the 1930s, Polk was heavily involved in many direct marketing efforts too, including automotive literature programs, which localized promotional materials to individual dealers.

Polk has always looked to the future and pioneered the industry. In the 1950s, fitting with a tradition of innovation, Polk was an earlyadopter of electronic data processing. From then on, the company pioneered the use of computers for its operations.

Staying on the forefront of technology and the demands of the automotive industry, Polk participated in the computerization of the national Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) file and in the 1960s watched as it expanded business and improved report schedules. Always striving to be better, Polk expanded its data reporting services to include monthly statistics on boats, business aircraft, motorcycles, commercial trailers and recreational vehicles.

In the 1970s, the company expanded internationally and continued to be an innovative leader. To meet the need for detailed information on total vehicles in operation by aftermarket manufacturers, Polk introduced the National Vehicle Population Profile® (NVPP®). It enabled manufactures, dealers and others in the aftermarket to manage their inventory, view their market, determine parts, manage production, allocate advertising funds, and identify marketing opportunities.

The 1980s saw Polk expand its non-automotive and automotive business through several acquisitions and partnerships. In doing so, Polk strengthened its operations and further enhanced the company’s strategy to be a global information services provider.

In the 1990s, Polk continued to expand its operations. It combined its Canadian activities with Blackburn Marketing Services to form Blackburn/Polk Marketing Services Inc. (BPMSI). It was renamed Polk Canada Marketing Service Inc. (PCMSI). Through the acquisition, Polk obtained a 35% ownership interest in CARFAX, a Fairfax, Virginia company, providing histories of used cars to potential buyers. In 1999 Polk completed the acquisition of CARFAX, which today is an independent operating unit of R. L. Polk & Co.

In order to help promote customer loyalty efforts, Polk established the Polk Automotive Loyalty Awards in 1996, and announced its first-ever Automotive Loyalty Award winner. The awards were created to recognize manufacturers who excelled at customer retention. It is still the industry’s only fact-based consumer loyalty award. To recognize outstanding companies making positive inventory efficiency improvements, Polk also introduced the Polk Inventory Efficiency Award in 2005.

The early 2000s were historical years for Polk. Continuing the drive to focus on the global expansion of its automotive business, Polk sold its non-automotive entities to Equifax. In addition, the company streamlined its operations and launched several innovative new offerings including Garage Predictors™, Total Market Predictors™, Polk Canada Net™, Polk Connect™, Polk Vehicle Lifecycle System™ and PolkInsight™ to name but a few.

Operating in its third century the company has become an integral part of the automotive world and its related industries. Through Polk and CARFAX, its independent operating units, R. L. Polk & Co. is a globally integrated organization and premier provider of automotive intelligence, marketing solutions and vehicle history information. 

On July 16, 2013, IHS Inc. (NYSE:IHS), the leading global source of critical information and analytics completed its acquisition of R. L. Polk & Co, a recognized leader in the automotive information industry. With the addition of Polk, IHS Automotive provides expertise and predictive insight across the entire automotive value chain from product inception…across design and production…to the sales and marketing efforts used to maximize potential in the marketplace. No other source provides a more complete picture of the automotive industry. With CARFAX, IHS added a consumer brand that provides consumers and automotive dealers with vehicle history information to enhance used vehicle purchase and sales decisions.