Bob Rewey has set the automobile business on its head.
By now, everyone should realize what Rewey and Ford Motor Co. are hoping to do. They want to eliminate the franchises of Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealers in Indianapolis and perhaps other markets and create a Ford-controlled company that would run a few big retail stores with several more service centers.
Ford hopes that existing dealers would become part owners of this new corporation. Tom Wagner, a seasoned Ford executive who has run the divisions as well as parts and service, would oversee the new operation.
The retail evolution, with the emergence of CarMax and Republic Industries' AutoNation, has suddenly become a real live revolution. If this is a reaction to the entrance of Wayne Huizenga and his folks in Florida from Republic, it may well be a violent overreaction. Republic is a new and savagely aggressive retailer with some huge plans to re-engineer the retail business in the top 50 markets. Ford has gone him one step further.
This is an interesting experiment. As long as it isn't your business at risk, everyone will be fascinated with the process and the results.
If you're one of Ford's 18 Indianapolis dealers and you were planning to turn your dealership over to one of your children, as your father did to you, then you have our condolences. You really don't have much choice, regardless of what the factory tells you. You're out of business.
It remains to be seen whether Ford Motor Co. will be able to run a bunch of superstores better than some very aggressive dealers run their stores. Ford and other automakers have never had much success in running dealerships, but they've never controlled an entire market before.
I can't help but think that the Federal Trade Commission will get involved. The FTC may simply veto the whole idea. It might suggest that Ford's control removes competition from the marketplace.
Ford has taken a big step down a very slippery slope. The national dealer body is pretty well split over whether this is good or bad. And you have to wonder just how much capital it's going to take to buy your dealers and control your major markets.
When folks worried about a gorilla entering the retail business from Fort Lauderdale, they didn't realize another one would enter from Dearborn. Ford's Indianapolis test is an interesting experiment. But I still feel sorry for the guinea pigs.