LONDON - A joint venture between Ford and a major dealer group in the United Kingdom will serve as a major retail laboratory to spread the word on best business practices and better customer service to all Ford dealers here.
Ford is also restructuring its own dealer organization in the United Kingdom.
It is replacing traditional zone managers with 'micro teams' made up of three specialists who help dealers in various areas, including human resources and business planning.
Separately, Ford will open a 'dealer university' for dealership managers and employees this year in partnership with Lough-borough University in the United Kingdom.
Ford wants to counter the traditional short-term, bottom-line dealership culture.
The company believes that better-trained employees will provide better service and that they will stay with the same dealership longer, which will generate greater customer loyalty.
The initiatives are part of Ford's global efforts to gain more control over the way its vehicles are sold by owning a direct stake in the dealerships that sell them.
The company believes customers are not satisfied with the dealerships and want better service.
Robert Rewey, Ford Motor Co. group vice president of marketing, sales and service, told Automotive News Europe that the Ford Retail Network strategy is global.
The strategy of consolidating dealerships in various markets, such as Tulsa, Okla., is being expanded to Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. Ford will look at other countries later.
Globalizing retail strategy means learning from Ford retail initiatives elsewhere, especially the United States.
Ian McAllister, Ford of Britain managing director, has begun talking weekly with Ross Roberts, president of the Ford entity overseeing worldwide retail strategy and the Ford Retail Networks that have created such a stir in the United States.
Polar Motors Group PLC will be the retail laboratory in the United Kingdom.
A joint committee, consisting of three Ford executives and three dealer officials, will meet frequently to work out strategy and assess the results.
And Polar is about to get larger. The board of Dagenham Motors Group PLC, Ford's largest dealer group in the United Kingdom, has accepted a $47.3 million buyout offer from Polar Motors Group.
Dagenham shareholders have until today, Feb. 22, to accept the Polar offer for their shares, but that deadline could be extended.
Polar is a joint venture between Ford and Jardine Motors, a multifranchise dealer group that is the United Kingdom's largest network. The purchase would give Polar eight Ford Customer Marketing Areas, or about 8 percent of Ford's new-car registrations.
By pooling retail knowledge, McAllister believes Ford dealerships 'can achieve higher market share, higher customer satisfaction, higher returns, better used-vehicle gross and better new-vehicle gross.'
'You need to achieve a culture change in dealerships.' he said. 'It takes time before you start to see returns come through. You've got to stop old, bad practices and start new ones. We know it works. What I want to do is prove it to the dealer organization.'
Beyond the United Kingdom, 'we are looking to extend this to other European markets,' McAllister said.
But Ford's dealers here have much larger territories than most of their European counterparts, so it will be easier for Ford to try the strategy in the United Kingdom first, he said.