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Factory stores fade; now Ford must fix Blue Oval

OPINION
 

Ford Motor Co. is following through on its promise to sell its Auto Collection dealerships in Salt Lake City.

This will end - none too soon - the company's four-year experiment with factory ownership and market consolidation of dealerships.

But Ford still must dispose of another piece of unfinished business from the Jacques Nasser era: the continuing irritation of Blue Oval certification for Ford Division dealers.

Ford Motor's experience with the Auto Collections in five cities - Tulsa, Oklahoma; Oklahoma City; Salt Lake City; San Diego; and Rochester, N.Y. - should put to rest the notion that automakers can gain anything by owning dealerships.

Ford started the Auto Collections with laudable goals. The company wanted to consolidate, cut costs and adopt Saturn-style selling.

But the automaker found there is no substitute for individual entrepreneurs, the most efficient owners and operators of dealerships.

Now, Ford Division has one more issue to settle with its dealers: Blue Oval certification.

Under Blue Oval, dealers who meet certain customer-service and other standards receive extra payments - 1.25 percent of the invoice price of each vehicle. Dealers see Blue Oval as two-tier pricing, which is a red flag.

The goals are sound, but Blue Oval has created distracting friction betweem the factory and dealers. Ford must rethink the program.

In many ways, Blue Oval is similar to Ford Motor Co.'s ABC method for evaluating employees, another Nasser initiative. Under that plan, departments were required to give 10 percent of their employees a C grade. A C grade two years in a row could lead to dismissal.

Yes, it's important to review employees and improve the talent pool. But the ABC program sowed too much discontent. The company dropped it this summer.

Ford and its dealers - working together - must find other ways to boost customer satisfaction. The Chrysler group has struck the right balance with its Five Star program.

It's time for Ford and its dealers to move on. Fix Blue Oval.

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