For many Ford Division dealers, it wasn't business as usual in 1999. While sales have continued to be strong, issues such as e-commerce have been bringing changes.
Jerry Reynolds, this year's dealer council chairman, has been general manager of Prestige Ford in the Dallas suburb of Garland since 1989. The dealership ranks as the fifth-largest Ford dealership in terms of retail sales. It sells 8,000 new vehicles and 2,500 used vehicles a year.
Reynolds is in his second year on Ford Division's National Dealer Council. Last year he chaired the marketing and finance committee. He was interviewed by Special Correspondent Michelle Krebs late last year. Edited excepts follow.
What are the industry's prospects for 2000?
Industry sales will probably be down slightly from 1999, but not a lot. We have a lot of exciting product coming in the 2000 calendar year. I think that will be a big help, assuming the economy stays stable. I look for a great 2000.
What are Ford's prospects for 2000?
I look for the car business to improve dramatically for Ford. The Focus is off to a great start. The Taurus is wildly successful. I look for most of our growth to be in our car segments. Trucks will stay about where they are. Sport-utilities will remain strong.
What is your top goal as dealer council chairman?
One of the things I want to accomplish in my year as chairman is to get higher NADA attitude survey scores for Ford. We moved from 29 to 34, which is an improvement, but not nearly good enough. I'm concerned that poor dealer satisfaction will hurt the value of the franchise.
Why is dealer satisfaction low?
Communication is the No. 1 reason. Ford slid and slid fast in the survey when the Ford Retail Network started. Dealers as a whole are adamantly opposed to Ford venturing into the retail business. We don't want to compete with the manufacturer; we want to be a partner. Maybe one of the reasons Ford moved up in dealer satisfaction this year is because it announced it was backing off of the Ford Retail Network. Ford rose five spots in the latest survey and got off the bottom.
What is the dealer council's top concern?
Customer satisfaction and continuous product quality improvement are our top concerns. We've had a larger number of recalls this year than we're used to. We feel strongly that owner loyalty is the key to our future as Ford dealers. There's a lot of benefit to keeping good customer satisfaction, and that has a lot to do with the quality of the vehicle. I'd like to see Ford continue to work on quality. It's not that they build a bad vehicle, but there are things that could make our job easier in terms of satisfying the customer.
Such as what?
Fewer recalls, improved parts availability, fixing it right the first time, transportation assistance. Residuals are a big part of that; the better the car, the better the residual, and the better the sales. I want to encourage them to continue to work on quality and keep building good cars and figure out ways to make them better.
Is the Internet and e-commerce a concern of the council?
Yes. Anything that goes on regarding the Internet and e-commerce we want to be involved with from the beginning. We understand things like the Priceline.com test could not be told to us ahead of time. But we don't want to read about it first in Automotive News.
What concerns dealers most about the Internet?
The biggest fear of every dealer is manufacturers selling directly to the customer. We support Ford's aggressiveness in e-commerce; we just want to be a part of it.
Any other issues facing Ford dealers?
The order-to-delivery system is a concern. As we're running at 17 million cars and trucks a year, Ford is doing as well as can be expected. But we're not able to get everything we need.
We feel Ford could improve commodity controls and the mix of certain engines and transmissions. We're encouraging them to do that. We've also suffered from transportation delays for a couple of years. We're trying to let them know this is a problem. We could sell more cars if we could get what the customer wants.