DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- Ford Motor Co., which eliminated 35 percent of its big-city Lincoln dealers last year, is asking the survivors to put their sales staff through a training academy that emulates a concierge service at a luxury hotel.
Ford hired Les Clefs d'Or, an international association of hotel concierges, to consult on creating the Lincoln Academy, the automaker said Monday in a statement. It's the first such alliance between an automaker and the concierge group, according to Ford, which didn't reveal terms of the deal.
"We realize that great new vehicles are only one part of Lincoln's transformation," Jim Farley, Ford global marketing chief, said in the statement. New models "have to be matched with personal and innovative customer service."
CEO Alan Mulally is seeking younger, wealthier buyers and a bigger slice of more-profitable premium- car sales for Lincoln. The lagging luxury line, whose buyers average 65 years old, has seen sales slide 63 percent since peaking in 1990. It's introducing seven new models by 2015.
Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, has asked Lincoln dealers to spend as much as $2 million each to renovate showrooms and upgrade service as it seeks to provide customers with a buying experience similar to brand competitors such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.
Last year, Ford cut its Lincoln dealers in U.S. metropolitan markets to 325 from more than 500 so they compete less with each other and more with other luxury-auto brands.
"It's been really difficult work," Farley said of the dealer consolidation at the Detroit auto show on Jan. 10. "But we're getting to the right number of dealers."
Ford wants to create "culture change in dealerships" with its Lincoln Academy training program, the automaker said in yesterday's statement. The training, which begins midyear, will have hotel concierges training Lincoln sales staff in the proper way to treat customers, Ford said.
The treatment will include 24-hour online concierge service for Lincoln shoppers and owners. Staff members will be available around-the-clock to answer questions live through interactive video, the automaker said.
The online interaction will include guided walkthroughs of new Lincoln models and services as well as comparisons with rival luxury models. Lincoln will create personalized portfolios for buyers that they can access on their laptop, iPad or smart phone, Ford said.