Automakers have an endless supply of great ideas dealers should pay for: bigger showrooms, flashier signage, better technology. Periodic facility investments come with the territory.
But costly factory directives become problematic when the next great idea directly contradicts the last one, which many dealers are probably still trying to pay off.
Lincoln Motor Co. has good reason to want exclusive dealerships in big luxury markets, rather than the dual-brand showrooms that sell about 20 Ford F-150s or Explorers for every Lincoln Navigator or MKX. Lincoln's improvements have been hard-fought and impressive, and the brand is now telling dealers in 30 markets to build standalone showrooms.
It's essentially reversing an effort to put Ford, Lincoln and Mercury all under one roof. Many dealerships spent big bucks doing that, then lost Mercury and now must weigh another sizable investment to separate Lincoln again.
This back-and-forth isn't unique to Ford. Hyundai has vacillated on plans for a Genesis retail network, and Mazda ordered up a new dealership look not long after many transitioned to a different design and color scheme.
Meanwhile, car-sharing, ride-hailing and other innovations have created uncertainty over the role of dealerships in the future, meaning more big investments will be needed in the coming years. Change is inevitable, but consistency amid the change is key to keeping dealers successful and content.