Lincoln will continue its Premier Experience dealer certification program after the 2003 model year.
Lincoln dealers have been anxiously awaiting word of the program's fate, which had been certain only through the 2003 model year. Lincoln Mercury President Darryl Hazel confirmed after the Lincoln Mercury make meeting that the program will continue for at least the 2004 model year.
Hazel wouldn't comment on how the bonus payments to dealers might change, but said, "I'm not looking to thrift it."
The program offers certified dealers payments of as much as 2.75 percent of a vehicle's sticker price. They can qualify for 1.375 percent in each of two certification areas: customer satisfaction and dealership image. About 90 percent of Lincoln dealers are certified, Hazel said.
He wouldn't disclose how much the payments cost Lincoln but described it as a "nontrivial sum."
Ford Motor Co. has said it cannot afford the cash payments awarded to certified Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealers. Ford and Mercury dealers have been told they will continue to receive dealer certification payments through March 2005.
Tom Murphy, a Pennsylvania dealer and chairman of the Lincoln Mercury national
dealer council, said dealers also asked how Lincoln Mercury products will be priced and marketed.
"I wouldn't say we're overpriced, but we have to reprice certain vehicles for the market," Murphy said.
The Mercury Grand Marquis, Lincoln Town Car and Lincoln LS are candidates for such tactics, Murphy said. The automaker is planning more focused marketing on the Lincoln Town Car and Navigator, and the Mercury Grand Marquis and Mountaineer, he said.
Hazel said Lincoln Mercury won't wait until new product comes out; it will determine ways to help dealers sell more of the existing product.
"We will not shy away, we will not flinch," he said. "If those who we view as principal competitors take action, we will respond."