Ford Motor Co.'s shift in marketing focus from conquest to retention started to come together at this year's NADA Show make meeting.
The automaker last year announced plans to center its marketing efforts on keeping customers in the fold. The plan includes more frequent communication via connected vehicles and perks offered through a new rewards program on the FordPass app. Executives used their 75-minute session with dealers to reveal details about the program, which is expected to start as soon as April.
The points-based rewards system will include complimentary maintenance, and customers who sign up will receive $210 in service credits. Customers can accumulate points, which can be transferred to other dealerships, by completing certain actions. Dealers were told Ford would cover the cost.
"Dealers really get the importance of customer experience," Mark LaNeve, Ford's vice president of marketing, sales and service, told Automotive News. "This program will marry customers to the dealership."
All but four of Ford Motor Co.'s roughly 3,100 U.S. dealers have signed up to offer the program, LaNeve said.
Todd Dyer, chairman of the Ford National Dealer Council, said he's happy with how the program helps build a relationship between the customer and dealer.
"Consumers are going to come back to us for this," said Dyer, who owns Marshal Mize Ford in Hixson, Tenn.
In addition to customer experience, the meeting focused on improving dealer profits, which dropped last year compared with 2017. To help increase those figures in 2019, Ford is tweaking its floorplan assistance as a way to offset rising interest rates.
A roughly 20-minute question-and-answer session centered on the automaker's recent partnership with Volkswagen Group. Dealers expressed concern that Ford was giving away its competitive advantage in trucks and commercial vans by sharing development with a competitor.
CEO Jim Hackett, the only global CEO to attend the NADA Show, strongly hinted the partnership would eventually include a U.S. component, saying Ford has been in "deep discussions" on the matter, according to dealers in the room.
Hackett opened the meeting by addressing dealers on stage and vowed to sit down with more dealers and attend more meetings with them this year. Hackett was not as visible with dealers in his early days as CEO but has increasingly made a point to meet with them, including a nearly weeklong gathering in October in Las Vegas.
Ford did not show dealers any photos of future vehicles, although most saw the brand's upcoming models at some point last year after they had asked for more transparency about Hackett's plans.
"I think our relationship is really, really strong," said Kumar Galhotra, Ford's president of North America. "That's not an accident. It's a lot of work."