Lincoln Mercury dealers will begin extensive training in April to prepare for the launch of the crucial Lincoln LS sedans.
Dealers and their key personnel will be trained at Treasure Island in San Francisco. Training will focus on creating a positive 'Lincoln experience' for LS buyers who are not Lincoln's traditional buyers. Those include younger, affluent buyers inclined to buy a near-luxury import from a Japanese or European manufacturer, said Mark Hutchins, Lincoln Mercury president.
The training also will include test drives of the LS6 and LS8 and vehicles from European and Japanese competitors, he said.
Lincoln Mercury officials would not confirm the date for Job 1 for the new entry-luxury LS sedans, to be produced in Wixom, Mich., nor would they say when the cars would go on sale.
Hutchins, who insisted in an interview that the production and on-sale dates have not changed despite reports of delays, said the car will arrive in the first half of this year.
Some small dealers attending the make meeting complained that the newly instituted Lincoln operating standards, developed by Lincoln Mercury with its national dealer council to coincide with the LS launch, are too stringent for them to meet. Those standards require that dealers commit to specific training and have a certain level of vehicle inventory at their dealerships, including demo cars.
Other dealers also complained about Ford's new order-to-delivery system, which over the past year has experienced glitches and delays in getting vehicle deliveries to dealers.
Jack Straub, owner of Straub Lincoln Mercury in Keyport, N.J., and chairman of the Lincoln Mercury national dealer council, said the dealer council and the company are trying to find the reasons for the delays and fix them.
In addition, Straub said some problems are being blamed on the vehicle ordering system, such as last summer's rail car shortage, that are not truly the fault of the system.
Straub explained that the dealer council will meet three times this year at Lincoln Mercury's Irvine, Calif., headquarters. The council has set up teams to work on specific issues, and the council will tackle different issues at each meeting.
For example, Straub said that as a result of discussion at the make meeting, the council will examine how Lincoln Mercury and its dealers can do a better job marketing off-lease cars.
A few dealers quizzed Lincoln Mercury officials about why they had moved headquarters to California. Hutchins reiterated that the division needed to move out of Detroit to differentiate the division and its products better from the rest of Ford Motor Co.
The Ford Retail Network issue did not come up until the final 10 minutes of the 90-minute make meeting, when Bill Lynch, last year's Lincoln Mercury dealer council chairman, raised it because no one else had. He simply asked for an update.
Not a single question regarding Ford's recent acquisition of Volvo came up. Hutchins said in an interview following the make meeting the Volvo acquisition should have no impact on Lincoln Mercury dealers.