Ford dealer improvement program tops expectations

Felice: "We overachieved. We had targets we had established and there are financial implications."
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NEW ORLEANS -- Last year, Ford Motor Co. told dealers it would offer them as much as $750,000 in matching funds to improve their dealerships. The response since then far exceeded Ford's expectations.

As a result, Ford had to get senior management to approve extra funds to accommodate all the dealers who wanted to participate. The program now is closed to new applicants.

John Felice, Ford vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, declined to say how much Ford had to spend. But he said the number of dealers who signed up for assistance account for about 70 percent of the company's unit volume.

"We overachieved. We had targets we had established and there are financial implications. There was more interest than we thought," Felice said on the sidelines of the National Automobile Dealers Association convention here on Saturday.

Ford's program, announced at the NADA convention last year in Orlando, won praise from dealers because it was not as prescriptive as some other manufacturers' facilities programs. The money was not tied to sales or customer service targets.

Ford let dealers redesign their stores in keeping with local business conditions as long as they included certain elements of Ford's Trustmark design, such as an entry tower and a "brand wall."

"One of the reasons the interest was higher than we thought, some dealers who were already considering it, said, 'I want to take time out and reconsider in my plan,'" once they learned that Ford had made the money available, he said.

Felice said it would take about three years for dealers who have signed up to finish the work.

Dealers can use some of the money to build Quick Lane service centers for oil change and light repair. Ford and its dealers are using the Quick Lane program in an effort to lure business from fast oil change franchises.

Ford celebrated the opening of the 700th Quick Lane at a ceremony on its stand here.

Dealers with Ford's Lincoln luxury franchise are further along in their facility improvements, Felice said. About half of the dealers in the top 130 luxury markets have completed their improvements and 70 percent of the total has committed to do the upgrades.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.


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