After dropping plans to consolidate dealerships in Salt Lake City last year, Ford Motor Co. and its dealers are taking a second look.
'We're talking,' said Robert Garff, chairman of Garff Enterprises and one of the dealers discussing consolidation. 'It may come, or it may not come. There's a long way to go before it's finalized.'
The talks were revived by growing acceptance of Ford's retail ideas, flexibility from both sides in structuring the deal and a collapsed merger of two Utah dealership groups.
In a related development, Ford announced last Friday, May 15, that Ross Roberts, general manager of Ford Division, will leave that job and manage the company's dealership consolidations nationwide. See story, Page 4.
Ford has consolidated one entire market, Tulsa, Okla. In the Tulsa venture, which will be jointly owned by Ford and the dealers, dealers sold six Ford and two Lincoln Mercury stores. They plan to create a network of new-and used-vehicle superstores and quick-service outlets. Investing dealers are working in the consolidated Ford Retail Network enterprise under the management of dealer Don Thornton.
Ford abandoned market consolidation in Salt Lake City in September 1997. Asked why dealers were willing to reconsider, Garff said, 'I've been in the business 42 years, and I've never seen a more dynamic period in the automotive business than right now. Everyone is re-evaluating their situation.
'People are trying to be ahead of the wave rather than behind the wave,' he said. 'Business as usual in the future is not going to work.'
Ford's once-radical notion of retail consolidation is gaining acceptance, said Jac Nasser, Ford Automotive Operations president, in an interview with Automotive News last week.
'People are getting more and more comfortable,' Nasser said. 'Whenever you go through a big change, you go through a period of remorse about the fact that change is happening. That is just human nature.'
Now, Nasser said, increasing numbers of dealers see 'good sense' in possible consolidation. 'We'll just keep going,' he said. 'It is fundamentally good for the dealers, for us and for the customers.'
Although Nasser would not identify Salt Lake City, he said it was the dealers who had revived talks in one of the markets in which consolidation had failed.
The collapse of a planned merger between Garff Enterprises and Rick Warner Auto Group also spurred revival of the Salt Lake City talks. The planned merger had been a stumbling block to Ford's original consolidation plan because the dealers would have had to sell a substantial part of their holdings to Ford.
Last year, Ford wanted to replace 17 dealerships in the Salt Lake City market with five multibrand superstores and 10 satellite service centers. The new talks involve fewer dealers.