JoeAuto Inc., an auto repair service in Houston that two years ago drew the anger of Ford dealers, is expanding.
On Aug. 1, JoeAuto, which relies heavily on the Internet, opened a shop in Plano, Texas, the first of three it will open in Texas this year. That would give JoeAuto six stores, with 12 more planned for next year.
While that is nowhere near the 140 stores the business once predicted it would have nationwide by 2005, JoeAuto has managed to survive while other Internet-based auto ventures failed.
"We have the revenue to continue to grow," says JoeAuto President Troy Cooper, without releasing figures. "But going slow will help us to eventually go fast."
JoeAuto was one of the first ventures to let consumers schedule service appointments online - something common today at dealerships. Users also could keep track of their vehicle's repair progress through Web cameras set up in service bays.
But it was JoeAuto's relationship with Ford Motor Co. that irked dealers. Ford was among several investors that pumped a total of $13.5 million into the venture in 2000.
Ford said the move was to gain an inside view of Internet technology and customer handling, but dealers viewed JoeAuto as competition for their service business. It was not until Bill Ford took over as CEO in late 2001 that the automaker dumped its investment in JoeAuto.
"I always saw them as a competitor," says Jerry Reynolds, owner of Prestige Ford in Garland, Texas, and a former chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council. "When they came in the scene, I was the chairman. It was one of those issues that put me over the top. I went nuts."
Today, Reynolds has softened his stance -- but just a little. "JoeAuto isn't going to take customers from Ford dealers, but they will be successful."