ORLANDO, Fla. -- Ford Motor Co. told Ford brand dealers that it has no secret plan to slash the number of retail stores.
Some dealers at the make meeting were worried about how Ford might trim its dealer body after comments made by Mark Fields, president of the Americas, on Feb. 10. After a speech at a J.D. Power and Associates event here, Fields told reporters that Ford would "right-size" its dealer network, just as it is reducing its manufacturing capacity.
But at the make meeting two days later, Fields told dealers there are no hard targets and no program to force them out of business, said dealers who attended.
"They're not on a witch hunt to get rid of dealers," said David Young, dealer principal at Young Ford in Charlotte, N.C.
Tom Addis, chairman of Ford's national dealer council, said attrition is the best way to shrink the dealer body to match's Ford's lower market share.
"Nobody gets hurt, and everybody's happy," said Addis, dealer principal at Lake City Ford in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Ford executives acknowledge that adjustments to the dealer footprint are necessary.
"Things change. You've got to look at marketplaces that are changing," said Al Giombetti, president of sales and marketing for Ford and Lincoln Mercury. "Then you've got to sit down and talk about it.
"But you have to be smart. You just can't be foolish and make off-the-cuff decisions. You've got to look at where the markets are moving."
Improving dealer profits was another issue. Ford dealers have suffered years of declining profits as the brand's market share dropped. Several Ford dealers attending the convention complained about losing money.
Ford is trying to align marketing, incentives and inventory so dealers can keep the right vehicles on their lots, Giombetti said. As interest rates rise, that will help control floorplan costs.
"You order vehicles that match up to what you're going to promote," he said. "We've been looking at the way vehicles are ordered. Some of it is our fault - probably most of it is our fault."
With a full year of the Fusion sedan and the new 2007 Edge crossover coming, Ford executives also aim to stabilize market share in 2006.
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