Ross Roberts, president of Ford Investment Enterprise Corp., wants to clear the air about Ford's effort to consolidate dealerships, called the Ford Retail Network. Roberts addressed dealer grievances in an interview last week with Staff Reporter Donna Harris. Edited excerpts follow.
Dealers say they are concerned by the radical shift Ford made in its retail operation, going from a learning lab to a national enterprise. Can you explain why the abrupt change?
We started the whole thing as a learning lab. Consumers were telling us for years certain things they wanted that we were going to have in a working model. That was our plan, but we did change from that. We changed as a result of the huge change in our indus-try. That change was the consolidation going on within the U.S. and the world. Seven or eight months ago we said that if we are going to be the most consumer-oriented and best auto manufacturer in the world, it's important to have a say in our distribution system and not let the publicly owned companies buy it up. We are now going to participate in the retail market with our dealers as partners.
The change seemed to take the dealer council by surprise. Will the dealer council ever have more of a say in shaping the Ford Retail Network?
No, they will not. That's not a council issue. We will keep them advised of what we are going to do, but we won't discuss the markets where we do not have a letter of intent signed. That's legal and appropriate. We will not advertise where we are going. We won't talk about our business with other dealers.
Republic Industries Inc. will operate your Rochester, N.Y., Auto Collection. But there has been a widespread rumor that Republic could take over the entire Ford Retail Network. Is there any truth to that?
Every month or so somebody says they've seen Elvis. That rumor has about the same credibility.