Ford Motor Co. and a San Diego dealer partner are testing an aftermarket accessories boutique aimed at consumers under 20.
The store, called flexivity - to reflect flexibility, creativity and expressiveness - opened in December in a shopping mall in El Cajon, Calif., near San Diego.
Ed Witt, owner of Witt Lincoln Mercury in San Diego and Ford's partner in the venture, said the store does not bear any Ford, Lincoln or Mercury branding and sells accessories for Ford and non-Ford vehicles, including Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen.
But the Ford-owned store has some area dealers puzzled because they say they weren't told about the store and only learned about Ford's connection after checking out flexivity's Web site. The site is advertised on billboards.
Mike Baker of Bob Baker Ford in San Diego said, 'I'm more disappointed that Ford didn't communicate this to dealers.' Baker is co-chairman of the San Diego Ford Dealers Association.
Users of the store's Web site, www.flexivity.com, which links to the Ford Pre-Owned Showroom site, can shop for and schedule test drives of certified used Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles.
Witt's dealership handles test drives and certified used-vehicle deliveries generated by the Web site, and is recommended by the store for accessories installation and servicing.
The flexivity pilot's goal is to give dealers the chance to create a relationship with future new-car buyers and their parents.
'From the dealer perspective, we don't see (these customers) in the dealership,' said Susan Venen-Bock, flexivity project manager at Ford. 'A lot of them have hand-me-down vehicles, and they love to personalize them. This is a way for the dealer to connect with them early on.'
Venen-Bock said the pilot program will last for a year. It will be evaluated, and, if successful, the concept could be expanded.
Witt said flexivity meets young people on their own turf - the shopping mall - and offers them things associated with what they are most interested in - cars, clothes and music.
Ford owns flexivity; Ford and Witt share flexivity profits. Neither would disclose what percentage each receives.
Venen-Bock said flexivity employees neither sell nor discuss the sale of vehicles with its customers and are forbidden to do so by California law.
Witt said he has received incremental business from the store but the store has not been open long enough to measure it. Witt declined to say how may new and used vehicles he sells.
An official grand opening for flexivity with an ad campaign is planned for May.