Ford Motor Co., targeting increased U.S. market share this year, told dealers Sunday that the company will match investments in their stores aimed at improving the customer experience.
Ford said it will match up to $750,000 per dealership in investments in the exterior and interior of their facilities. Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, discussed the issue with reporters. All of Ford’s roughly 3,100 dealers that reach agreements with the company this year will be eligible, he said.
“This is about making sure the customers, when they get in the stores, get in the service department, they have a great, modern experience,” Jim Farley, executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service, said at the National Automobile Dealers Association’s convention in Orlando, Fla. He declined to say how much Ford has budgeted for the program.
Montrose Auto Group is still waiting to see the details of the new Ford program, said Joe Stefanini, vice president for the Akron-area dealership group.
Montrose Ford spent $1.7 million under a previous Ford program called Blue Oval to upgrade and expand its dealership, Stefanini said. Under that plan, Ford reimbursed the Montrose dealership for the expense through a small percentage on each Ford model sold, he said. “We never got to the $1.7 million,” he said.
Almost all the major manufacturers want dealerships to be upgraded, he said. The emphasis now is putting in additional creature comforts for customers, he said.
“We’re just finishing up a [$1.5 million] General Motors dealership upgrade in Pennsylvania,” he said. “It’s a lot more luxurious.”
The new Ford program likely won’t require the Montrose group to increase its building footprint, Stefanini said.
“We doubled the size of it before,” he said. As a result, the Ford dealership building complex where 120 employees work is more than 100,000 square feet. Stefanini said he expects to meet with Ford representatives in the near future about the new program and what the manufacturer wants the dealership to do.
Automakers and their dealers have been jousting over pushes by the manufacturers to renovate outlets, with retailers questioning the return on their investment. Ford and other carmakers are emphasizing customer retention to separate themselves from the pack as third-party researchers such as J.D. Power & Associates report industrywide gains in product quality.
Ford met separately Sunday with dealers for its Lincoln brand, which had its worst U.S. sales month in 32 years in January. The Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker has blamed a shortage of its recently introduced Lincoln MKZ sedan. Lincoln will have “commensurate” inventory by the end of the first quarter, said Matt VanDyke, director of global Lincoln.
“You’ve got customers that want the cars and they haven’t flowed as freely as we would like,” said Don Chalmers, an owner of Ford and Lincoln franchises in New Mexico, after the meetings. “Dealers are frustrated with that, no more frustrated than Ford Motor Co. We’re all frustrated.”
Dealers are aggravated because there is demand for Lincoln products that isn’t being met, Farley said. Almost 250,000 visitors to Lincoln’s website saw an MKZ as part of the brand’s campaign tied to this month’s Super Bowl, he said.
“We’d love to have year-over-year sales gains, and that’s great for our dealers and great for us, but that’s not the priority,” Farley said. “We’re building a brand. That’s why we are taking so much time to get the quality just right.”
Ford’s sales rose 4.7 percent to 2.24 million cars and light trucks in the U.S. last year, trailing the industry’s 13 percent gain, according to researcher Autodata Corp. The automaker’s market share slipped to 15.5 percent in the U.S., from 16.8 percent in 2011.
Ford last month said its market share will increase this year following introductions of the new Escape compact-utility vehicle and Fusion sedan.