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Ford Dealers Team Up for E-Commerce

The business of selling new cars is getting tougher all the time for conventional dealerships.

The customers come armed with information gleaned from the Internet, there's competition on what seems like a zillion Web sites, and even Amazon.com is entering the game in an alliance with Greenlight.com.

But the Ford Dealer Council, with 4,200 dealer-members across the U.S., thinks it may have a plan to let its thousands of sales people sleep a little better at night.

The council is establishing a new company, an Internet-based enterprise called FordDirect.com, that will offer services to customers who want to purchase Ford brand cars and trucks online, effectively eliminating any cyber middlemen.

FordDirect's Web site will allow customers to configure, select, price, finance, initiate the purchase and schedule the delivery of a new car or truck from participating Ford dealers, on a 24/7 basis.

The transaction will be completed by a local Ford dealer chosen by the customer, who can provide the necessary off-line support both during and after the sale.

The model does not appear to be all that different from a number of other Web-based auto sales enterprises, which put customers in touch with dealers.

It's just that the new commercial enterprise will be jointly owned and supported by participating Ford Division dealers and Ford Motor Company with an independent management team appointed by the venture's board of directors.

FordDirect.com said it will offer "the largest representation of Ford Division dealers available online."

Trilogy Software has been selected to provide the technology "to create a new e-commerce platform to transform the consumer buying experience," FordDirect said.

"This is an unprecedented partnership between an automotive dealer body and a manufacturer," said Jerry Reynolds, chairman of the national Ford Dealer Council. "No other automaker can claim this level of cooperation with their dealers. We are breaking through the channel conflict that is sometimes caused by the Internet."

"FordDirect will address the selection and service shortcomings of today's existing online auto sites by bringing superior geographic coverage, accurate information, and the broadest range of services directly to consumers at the point-of-sale," Reynolds said.

"We combine the off-line strengths of Ford and the dealer body with the convenience of the Internet to create the ultimate 'clicks and bricks' customer experience."

Ford Motor Co. will be an investor (financial specifics were not disclosed), but Ford Division dealers will retain control of the new entity. Dealer participation is voluntary.

Car companies have traditionally had the problem of alienating their dealers if they tried to sell factory direct, and most have refrained from the practice.

At the Ford site, for instance, you can get all kinds of information about the car and get a referral to a dealer for a quote, but you can't actually buy a car there. You can't directly buy a Chevrolet from General Motors at GM.com, either.

Ford said a special FordDirect e-price will reflect the maximum price a dealer may charge a consumer using FordDirect for a vehicle configured by the consumer.

FordDirect is expected to be fully operational in September in California and will expand across the U.S. with full implementation throughout the country expected next year.