PHILADELPHIA - Dealers have typically ignored the auto-accessory market because it is too expensive to store the items. But Ford Motor Co. has a plan to change that and grab a bigger share of that lucrative market.
Ford is creating a network of third-party companies that will install Ford-brand accessories at Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealerships. The company wants to be operating in the top 66 markets in the United States and Canada by the end of 1999.
Dealers won't carry the inventory but will share the revenue. Ford now captures $250 million, or 13 percent, of the $1.9 billion spent each year on vehicle aftermarket accessories.
The new program is part of Ford's global campaign to garner more of the dollars consumers spend on their cars and trucks. For example, in the United States, Ford is entering the used-parts resale business. In Europe, the company has purchased Kwik-Fit, the largest maintenance and light-repair chain.
Currently, a minority of Ford's 4,800 U.S. dealers sell and install aftermarket accessories. Typically, dealers rely on local installers that are not authorized to handle Ford-brand accessories.
'Dealers can satisfy their customers, but they don't have to carry the inventory,' said Kathleen Merchak, Ford Customer Service Division global accessories commodity manager. 'It is a huge market.' She spoke here at the annual dealer new-model introduction.
Customers interested in customizing their vehicles often have to do so after the purchase. Now, a technician from a Ford-authorized installer will arrive at the dealership in a mobile unit to accessorize a vehicle in time for new-car delivery.
In some cases, accessories may be added to the vehicle at a customer's home or office.
Not all truck owners accessorize, but those who do spend about $1,700 on their vehicles during the time they own them, Merchak said. Bed liners, running boards and hood and window deflectors are the most popular truck accessories, she said.
Car owners who accessorize spend an average of $550 on such items with security systems the top seller, she said.
Ford, its dealers and the third-party installers share the revenue in the new Ford program.
Ford is equipping its dealerships with a desktop computer program that enables salespeople to illustrate to a customer how a vehicle would look with a tonneau cover or a tool box.
The top 66 markets represent 85 percent of Ford sales in the United States and Canada, Merchak said. Some markets will have more than one authorized installer.
Ford has been testing the program in its Pittsburgh, Dallas, San Francisco, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Orlando and Toronto districts.