- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

DETROIT, Feb. 3 (UPI) — Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO William Clay Ford has apologized to the automaker's 4,500 independent dealers nationwide for trying to impose a business policy that put the company in competition with them.

"In the 1990s, some of us thought we could do a better job. We learned the hard way we were wrong," Ford told the National Automotive Dealers Association convention this weekend in San Francisco.

Bill Ford, the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, board member Edsel Ford II and other top executives walked the floor of the exhibit hall Saturday shaking hands and meeting and greeting dealers in Bill Ford's first appearance at the convention attended by some 25,000 auto dealers and industry people.

Ford angered its independent dealer network during the highly profitable 1990s by trying to develop direct to consumer Internet sales, and offering vehicle owners oil changes, lube jobs and repair work traditionally performed by dealers.

Ford's conciliatory convention keynote address was an effort to repair strained relations with Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealers and those who also sell the company's luxury brands Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo.

NADA presented Ford with a birthday cake commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Ford Motor Co.

The Detroit Free Press said the fence mending came after a dealer's association survey last month ranked Ford, Lincoln and Mercury at the bottom of domestic nameplates.

Ford also said it would change the name for its Windstar minivan when an all-new 2004 model is introduced at the Chicago Auto Show next week. They didn't reveal the name, but it is expected to begin with an "F." The redesigned minivan will hit dealer showrooms in September.

Windstar sales fell 17 percent in 2002 to 148,875 minivans, second to Honda's Odyssey.

General Motors Corp. Chairman G. Richard Wagoner told dealers GM will target affluent baby boomers to increase sales by 1.8 million vehicles over the next 10 years.

GM had record sales of 17.4 million vehicles in 2000 and has increased market share two consecutive years by offering zero-percent financing, generous rebates and other expensive buyer incentives.

John Smith, group vice president for vehicle sales, service and marketing, told Automotive News General Motors would continue to pursue market share by targeting minorities in the nation's 25 largest markets. GM is expected to increase advertising directed toward Hispanic and Asian customers.

NADA chief economist Paul Taylor forecast new vehicle sales of 16.5 million units in 2003 but said sales would be about 1.8 percent lower if the U.S. goes to war with Iraq.

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