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.

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