- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Ford Motor Co.’s Washington-area dealers yesterday said they were encouraged by the Detroit automaker’s plans to scale back production but heavily market vehicles like the Mustang, Fusion and Edge.

“We definitely see, with the new Mustang, the company is getting back into the car business, which it has been out of for the past 10 to 12 years,” said Steven Cowles, owner of the Cowles Parkway Ford Inc. dealership in Woodbridge, Va.

Customer traffic at the dealership was “volatile” last year after Ford and the other Big Three U.S. manufacturers offered heavily discounted sales periods, Mr. Cowles said, declining to give sales figures.

“It will take a while for people to get comfortable with coming in and making deals. But our take on this is pretty positive,” he said.

But Bob Bell, owner of Bob Bell Automotive Group in Glen Burnie, Md., said he was disappointed by Ford’s announcement, which included closing 14 plants and slashing up to 30,000 jobs in the next six years to offset a drop in U.S. sales.

The financial instability of U.S. auto manufacturers has forced more dealers to own several franchises to make up for sales dips, said Mr. Bell, who owns the Bob Bell Ford dealership in Glen Burnie with locations for Chevrolet, Kia, Nissan and Hyundai.

“Ford should not have depended so much on SUVs and should have thought more on entry-level cars. We as dealers depend on [Ford] to make the right decisions” on what vehicles will sell, he said.

He also blamed the company for not dealing with the pension and health care costs associated with its labor unions.

Ford plans to hold a conference call for its roughly 4,300 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealers tomorrow afternoon, outlining the company’s revitalization campaign, dubbed “Way Forward,” said company spokeswoman Becky Sanchez.

Joseph Laney, Internet sales director at Crystal Ford, said the restructuring campaign could limit the availability of cars at the Silver Spring dealership.

“It probably wouldn’t happen until the summertime, but I think availability levels will do down,” Mr. Laney said.

“Last year, the availability level for the Mustang was low. That made people realize that they couldn’t get this vehicle everywhere and they had to buy it now,” he said.

A trimmed-down vehicle inventory for other new products may help improve sales, said Bill Vowles, general sales manager for the Academy Ford Sales Inc. dealership in Laurel.

“Obviously, we have some catching up to do with the import success we have seen from Toyota, Honda and Nissan,” Mr. Vowles said.

Ford’s new midsize cars must have more creative design to compete with other sedans in the U.S. market, he said.

“I think dealers want to see a new product that is not only high in reliability but also in style.

“The products on the style end have lacked creativity in the marketplace,” he said.

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