Ford to Match Up to $750,000 of Investments by Dealers in Stores

Ford Motor Co., targeting increased U.S. market share this year, told dealers yesterday that the company will match investments in their stores to improve the customer experience.

Ford will match dollar-for-dollar, up to $750,000 per dealership, investments in the exterior and interior of their facilities, Ken Czubay, Ford’s vice president of U.S. marketing, sales and service, told reporters yesterday. 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, Florida. He declined to say how much Ford has budgeted for the program.

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.

‘All Frustrated’

Ford met separately yesterday with dealers for its Lincoln brand, which had its worst U.S. sales month in 32 years in January. The Dearborn, Michigan-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,” Don Chalmers, an owner of Ford and Lincoln franchises in New Mexico, said 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 product that isn’t being met, Farley said. Almost 250,000 visitors to Lincoln’s website have configured 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.

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