NEW ORLEANS -- With 16 product launches coming in 2014, Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of the Americas, asked dealers to be an early warning system to help the company identify quality problems and fix them quickly.
"He asked us to pay attention to quality issues and let them know early on if there are problems," said Jeff Carlson, a Ford dealer from Glenwood Springs, Colo., describing the make meeting.
Instead of "shoving cars at us," Ford is "asking us to participate in the launch, Carlson said. "The tone in the room was completely different. Ford was being collaborative."
Some of the 16 launches scheduled this year in North America involve some of Ford's most important vehicles: the 2015 Mustang, the Transit commercial van and, biggest of all, the 2015 F-150 pickup, which has an aluminum body.
Ford has struggled with launches in recent years. The 2013 Ford Escape had a balky launch that led to recalls of models with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine, and the 2013 Lincoln MKZ was delayed three months by problems with parts supply and quality glitches.
At the make meeting, Ford fielded questions about the aluminum pickup, which was introduced at the Detroit auto show in January.
Todd Citron, general manager of Hub City Ford in Lafayette, La., said questions arose about insurance rates and repair costs on the F-150.
"They think it [repair costs] will be the same or possibly less," said Citron, who said his dealership is one of the largest F-150 stores in the state.
Greg Rothfeldt of Countryside Ford in Clearwater, Fla., sells 200 new and used vehicles a month, including 40 to 50 F-150s. He said he will gear up for the new truck.
"We have a body shop, so we'll need about $30,000 to $50,000 in additional tooling, but Ford is going to help us out on that with some incentives."
Dealers flocked to the Ford stand to look at the pickup.
George Doetsch, owner of Apple Ford-Lincoln in Columbia, Md., said after the meeting: "I'm excited by the 16 products that they're bringing out, and the attitude that they have with the dealer body. The company under [CEO Alan] Mulally and [COO Mark] Fields has been reoriented to the performance of the company and the dealer body."
Colorado dealer Carlson said spirits are high: "With an industry that's going to go to 16.4 million units, and we have 16 new launches coming -- what an awesome time to be a Ford dealer."
Larry P. Vellequette contributed to this report.