Not surprisingly, the Ford Retail Network was the subject of much discussion at the Ford Division make meeting. But then again, the conversation wasn't particularly acrimonious. Several times, the room was filled with applause.
Dealers opened their filled-to-capacity make meeting by noting that Ford Division ranked 31st of 34 franchises in dealer satisfaction. Ford Division President Jim O'Connor said the ranking made him unhappy, particularly since the division sold a record 3.3 million cars and trucks last year
and Ford dealer profits skyrocketed 42 percent for an all-time record.
Dealers said much of their dissatisfaction stems from their fear and concern regarding the massive changes in automotive retailing. They cited the Republic Industries' AutoNation offensive, especially in Denver, and the Ford Retail Network, by which Ford has an ownership interest in consolidated joint ventures that replace individually owned dealerships in specific cities.
Dealers quizzed Ford executives on the company's strategy and how dealers fit into the picture. O'Connor assured them that the retailing landscape for at least the next decade will be largely independent dealers.
A number of dealers expressed anger with Republic Industries/ AutoNation in Denver. Republic has purchased a number of dealerships, including those previously owned by Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway.
In its massive advertising campaign, estimated at $2.5 million a month, AutoNation characterizes independent car dealers as plaid-jacketed hucksters.
'Any organization that does that isn't doing any dealer any good,' said Ron Boyer, Ford National Dealer Council chairman and a dealer in Denver.
Few product questions arose since Ford has done a good job of delivering products for dealers to sell, Boyer said.
Ford has the Focus, a rede-signed Taurus and a Suburban-fighting Excursion sport-utility arriving this fall. The Thunder-bird is set for the 2001 model year along with the yet-unnamed small sport wagon that will be built in Kansas City.
O'Connor said the future of the Contour is being discussed. Ford's plant in Mexico will be the sole source for the Contour when production of the new vehicle begins in Kansas City.
He said Ford is discussing how long it should continue the Contour and in what volume.
Dealers said they wanted more V-8 Super Cab pickup trucks. O'Connor reminded them that Ford has added 50,000 such vehicles to this year's production schedule and is looking for ways to increase production even more.