DETROIT -- Bolstered by a steady flow of world-class products, increased sales, and a steadily improving image, Ford and its dealers have reached a key conjuncture in the company's history.
"We have built such good will, based on the strength of our products, creating a strong business -- and we care – that we are in a place now where we can really take Ford soaring," Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally told dealers and Ford employees during the 2010 Ford Dealer Introduction Show last week in Detroit.
Comparing his vision of a Ford dealership to an Apple store – with its friendly, well-informed staff, breadth of product and speedy transactions – Mulally urged an even closer working relationship with dealers to dramatically improve the customer experience at Ford dealerships as a means of further differentiating the company from its chief competitors.
The challenge is to go beyond simply satisfying customers, said Frederiek Tony, vice president, Ford Customer Service Division.
"The fact is that customers can be completely satisfied with their retail experience and still not buy from us again because they haven't developed an emotional connection. But loyal customers are much more engaged emotionally and wouldn't dream of going anywhere else," he explained.
Ford hopes to wrap a superior consumer experience around its "Virtuous Circle" strategy, which consists of World-Class Products, Effective Communications, Strong Brands, and Net Revenue Growth. Each element of the strategy fuels the next, ultimately delivering the profits necessary to sustain the business and perpetuate the cycle.
John Felice, general manager, Ford, Lincoln and Mercury Marketing, took dealers through the four elements, noting key successes, including the 9,000 Fiesta reservations that resulted from Fiesta Movement – under Effective Communications – and improving vehicle transaction prices, which are part of Net Revenue Growth.
"The company is doing a great job," said Chris Lubbers, new car sales manager, Lubbers Ford in Cheney, Kansas. "Ford is hitting everything that is hot with customers – quality, fuel economy, power, styling – they're hitting it everywhere."
Lubbers wasw among 1,800 Ford dealers and dealership personnel in four waves attending the intro show.
One of the highlights was a morning drive event on Detroit's island park of Belle Isle that includes comparisons of Ford's newest products against key competitors. Among them are Mustang versus Chevy Camaro, Edge versus Nissan Murano, and Fiesta pitted against the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit.
According to Terry Kidd, dealer principal of Kidd Ford Lincoln Mercury in Morrison, Tenn., Fiesta won easily.
"There really is not much competition. There is so much more content to Fiesta. The car itself doesn't feel like a small car. It looks and feels so much nicer," said Kidd. "I can't wait for Fiesta. I think it will be a great-selling car that will attract younger and older buyers."
Fiesta is part of an aggressive new-vehicle launch this year and marks the return of the Blue Oval to the U.S. small-car market.
"Small car sales in the U.S. have grown every year since 2004, and now represent over one fifth of all U.S. vehicles sold – and 93 percent of them are import owners who previously would not have considered a Ford," said Felice during a business meeting with dealers while standing on stage near a new Fiesta. "That's going to grow our customer base."
Felice added that Fiesta pre-launch reservations are showing a rich mix, with heated leather seats as the number-one option.
"Bottom line: Fiesta is an aspirational product that people will buy because they want to, not because they have to," he said.
Also introduced on stage during the meeting were the new 2011 Ford Edge – the first vehicle to offer MyFord Touch voice-activated technology – and the new 2011 F-Series Super Duty, which features Ford's own 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel engine.
Ken Czubay, vice president of U.S. Marketing Sales and Service, who opened the meeting, thanked the dealers for their support of the company during the tumultuous time since the last dealer intro show in 2008.
"Even though there is more work ahead of us, your confidence in our business strategy, along with your dedication, has helped us prepare for what's ahead. And on a personal note, I have never been more proud than I am today in what we've been able to accomplish as a team," Czubay said.
A similar intro show will be held for Lincoln Mercury dealers in October.