Ford Motor Co. is helping John Isgett keep his Chrysler customers.
Isgett owns a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge store in Hartsville, S.C., that Chrysler LLC has targeted to close. But he also owns a Ford store in neighboring Darlington, and Ford sees an opportunity.
Shortly after Chrysler announced its list of closing dealerships, Ford sent Isgett what he describes as a list of orphaned customers -- a roster of select Chrysler vehicle owners in the community.
In hopes of picking up displaced customers, Ford is offering Isgett's Chrysler owners extra incentives of $500 to $1,000.
"I thought it was genius, a great idea," says Isgett, dealer principal of Raceway Automotive Group in northeastern South Carolina.
"It's all business. As a Chrysler dealer, I can tell you there are customers who feel like they've been left out in the cold."
Isgett is using the incentives and the list to try to convert Chrysler owners into Ford owners. His salespeople are calling the Chrysler owners, many of whom bought their vehicles from Raceway's Chrysler store.
The pitch: "We're calling as a person they already trust saying: 'You have concerns? We have answers.'"
Isgett also is sending out postcards about the Ford offer to customers on the list. The list includes owners of Chrysler vehicles older than the 2006 model year who have had service work done at Ford dealerships in the past three years.
It appears that Ford is trying to strike a balance to avoid overtones of gloating.
"We've been very cautious and certainly not predatory with regard to this," says Ford spokesman Robert Parker.
Ford just expanded the incentives for Chrysler owners into some western markets, but the extra cash is being offered only in select regions, Parker says. Ford launched the program because Chrysler owners were having trouble trading in their cars since residual values had plunged.
Parker says the incentives have particularly helped dealers such as Isgett, who have franchises with both automakers and are trying to move their Chrysler customers over to Ford. Ford will decide in the next week whether it will continue or expand the incentives. There is no similar offer for owners of General Motors vehicles.
Ford dealers are hoping the incentives stick around and spread. Ron Willey, owner of Willey Auto Group in Ames, Iowa, wants to see them come his way. He owns two Ford stores and is about to lose his Chrysler and Jeep franchises.
Says Willey: "I think we'll be able to move a lot of our Chrysler product customers to our Ford products."