NEW YORK -- Jim Farley, Ford's president of global markets, envisions a future with smaller showrooms, less conquesting and a more personal relationship between dealers and customers.
Speaking at the 2018 NADA/J.D. Power Automotive Forum here, Farley called on dealers to embrace new opportunities such as digital retailing, autonomous cars and electrified powertrains. Dealers saved Ford from filing for bankrutptcy, he said, and they'll continue to play a vital role in the future, despite changes coming to the industry.
"The franchise system is going to have to evolve in a meaningful way, but it's doable," Farley said. "What makes you guys special is your creativity. If we just apply that creativity to a few other new areas, we can be just as successful as a team as we have in the past."
Part of that success hinges, Farley said, on building more valuable relationships with customers. He suggested doing away with the goal of conquesting and focusing instead on "nurturing those existing customers and exploring new revenue opportunities."
That includes focusing more on used-car businesses as well as fixed operations. New services will pop up once cars drive themselves, Farley said, and dealers need to jump on such money-making opportunities.
"All these connected cars will offer services," he said. "It should not be strange at all for someone should be able to get on their phone, hit the FordPass app and get a car wash while they're at work. I can think of hundreds of services like that customers would love."
Farley said the bond between dealers and customers can grow stronger through how vehicles are sold. He suggested the old system of companywide incentives on vehicles needs to give way to individual, one-on-one deals for specific customers targeted to their needs.
The physical footprint of dealerships needs to change, too.
Farley said one of his biggest regrets coming out of the economic downturn is asking dealers to build large, flashy showrooms.
"I think we're going to need really nice facilities forever," he said. "I'm just not sure that they have to be as big as they have been."
Ford's Lincoln luxury brand has been testing out what it calls "experience centers" that serve as mini-showrooms to introduce the brand to new customers in smaller, intimate spaces, usually in outdoor shopping malls.
There are steps the factory can take to help dealers, too.
"Ford has to become one of the simplest companies to do business with, and it starts with our product complexity," Farley said.
Ford is working to change that by dramatically reducing the orderable amount of parts on vehicles and speeding up the time it takes to go from designer sketch to dealer showroom.
"The auto business is clearly ripe for picking for new companies to come into our space, or traditional companies to make new kinds of bets," Farley said. "Dealers have a bight future in our industry provided they are ready to evolve with us."