Ford domestic dealer count dips below 4,000

Ford Motor's Mark Fields: Consolidation has boosted dealership profitability and sales per store.
DETROIT — Ford Motor Co.'s U.S. dealership count has dropped beneath 4,000 stores for the first time in decades.

During the first four months of 2008, several dozen of Ford's domestic brand stores closed to put the automaker below that mark, said Mark Fields, Ford's president of the Americas.

Ford isn't providing the exact dealership count, but the company had 4,056 domestic brand stores at the end of 2007. The current count is closer to 4,000 than 3,900, a Ford official said.

This is the lowest total since Ford began building its dealership network in the early part of the 20th century, according to Automotive News records.

Ford is nearly two years into a plan to shrink its dealership network because of lower sales and declining market share.

The effort is concentrated on consolidating stores in major metro areas.

Dealership profitability and sales per store are going up in markets where consolidation has taken place, Fields said last week.

Ford took a $108 million charge in the first quarter related to the dealership consolidation program. More costs are expected as the program continues, an official said.

Some of that money is going to help buy out dealers.

“Where it makes sense, we'll participate financially,” Fields said. “But everybody has to have some skin in the game, so we'll look at that on a case-by-case basis.”

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