Ford Motor COO resumes goodwill tour

This week, Nick Scheele will convene grass-roots meetings with Ford Motor Co. dealers in four U.S. cities in a bid to rustle up support for the automaker's new executive regime.

Scheele's goodwill tour is designed to mend the tattered relationship between Ford Motor and its dealers. For the past four years, Ford Motor and its retailers have battled over a host of issues, including dealership certification, e-commerce ventures and factory investment in stores.

Scheele, Ford Motor's new COO, will be traveling with a rotating contingent of company executives as he makes whistle-stops in San Diego; Phoenix; Orlando, Fla.; and Baltimore. The lineup includes Jim Padilla, newly named Ford North America group vice president.

"The overriding issue for dealers is product and that includes initial quality, durability, appealability and price,'' said Ralph Seekins, chairman of the Ford Division National Dealer Council and tour participant. Seekins owns Seekins Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Fairbanks, Alaska.

William Clay Ford Jr., who took over as Ford Motor CEO Oct. 30, has pledged to return the company to its core business of automobile manufacturing. Ousted CEO Jacques Nasser positioned Ford Motor as a consumer company that provided automotive goods and services, a strategy resulting in spotty vehicle quality and intermittent product hits.

The meetings have no established agenda, said Susan Krusel, Ford Motor spokeswoman.

"Dealer relations are a top priority. Dealers told us they wanted to see more of our executives,'' she said. "The whole point is to listen to the dealers about any issues they want to bring up.''

Eventually, the road show will touch down in all 18 Ford Division regions. The tour began in June under the Nasser administration. Scheele already has visited dealers in Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Detroit as the former chief of Ford Motor's North American operations.

Lincoln Mercury dealers will ask for a volume vehicle, possibly based on an all-wheel-drive platform, said Fraser Lemley, chairman of the Lincoln Mercury National Dealer Council and owner of the Sentry Auto Group in Boston.

Lincoln Mercury meetings will include Scheele, Padilla, Mark Hutchins and Brian Kelley, Lemley said. Hutchins is the outgoing president of Lincoln Mercury. Kelley is the incoming chief.

The meetings with Ford Division dealers follow a half-day session held in Detroit Nov. 12, Lemley said. At that session, he said, Scheele and more than half a dozen Ford Motor executives focused on the company's efforts to improve vehicle quality.

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