Now that Ford Motor Co. has revised its Blue Oval bonus program for Ford brand dealers and the corresponding Elite program for Lincoln dealers, both sides can get back to the business of rebuilding their frayed relations.
There was nothing wrong with the concept behind the original Blue Oval and the corresponding certification programs for Lincoln and Mercury that were unveiled four years ago. Automakers must have the right to encourage their dealers to meet higher standards and to reward dealers when they meet the standards. And it can be accomplished without all the acrimony, as the Chrysler group showed with its Five Star program.
But Blue Oval became a flashpoint at a time of deteriorating factory-dealer relations at Ford. Dealers were angry when the factorys Ford Retail Network started acquiring and running dealerships, competing with the brands own franchised dealers. And there were suspicions that the factory wanted to sell cars online, without dealers when it experimented with a program selling off-lease vehicles.
The most contentious part of Blue Oval was what some dealers considered a two-tier wholesale price structure.
Times have changed. The Ford Retail Network is gone. So are fears about the company wanting to sell directly to consumers online. Most importantly, so are the factory executives that dealers believed were out to get them.
But dealer relations have been slow to heal. Dealer bonuses under the new Ford program were cut in half but not eliminated, as some dealers had feared. Gone is any hint of two-tier pricing because the bonuses are based on achieving sales targets, not whether a dealer is certified. And the automaker will switch to a shorter customer satisfaction survey on Jan. 1.
The new bonus programs wont make everybody happy, but they can bring closure to a troubled period.