Ford Dealers Urge Mulally for Plan

By: Glady Reign

Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Co. CEO, was bombarded with its dealers' growing concerns for plans. Earlier, the new CEO met with Ford dealers to discuss its turnaround plan that includes the revival of the company's faltering stand on dealerships. Ford dealers urged Mullaly to reassure them that the plan is indeed solid for them to cope with the upsetting crisis.

The meeting was held at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Las Vegas and it was Mulally's first face-to-face talk with a large crowd of dealers. He was joined by Ford Americas Group President Mark Fields and Ford's North American head of marketing, sales and service, Cisco Codina. Mullaly, an engineer who was previously connected with Boeing Commercial Airplanes, joined the ailing automaker last fall. The Ford clan is expecting that Mulally's expertise could alleviate the plight of the company.

In the meeting, Mulally promised that Ford executives would listen to dealers and would maintain a "confident but not arrogant" attitude. When a dealer suggested that he come to his business and sell some cars, Mulally responded: "Done." After the meeting, Mulally said he will make a visit as soon as his schedule allows him to do so.

Ford incurred a devastating loss of $12.7 billion in 2006. Its bleeding market share, mortgaged assets and waning workers' confidence, made the company grope in the darkness of the industry's helm. These problems are not as easy as losing profits in manufacturing for what they are facing right now are a thousand folds graver. And these problems trouble Ford dealers as well. "This is it for them, their last shot," said Steve Marshall, a Ford dealer from Laramie, Wis. "A lot of people are riding on this and whether they can get it done. I have five kids who are banking on it."

After the meeting, the dealers' mood appeared mixed. Some dealers pushed Mulally for more specifics about the turnaround plan. One dealer questioned why dealers should believe the current turnaround plan will work given Ford's past failures. Other dealers complained about a lack of specifics from Mulally and his leadership team.

Mulally said he feels the company's turnaround plan is making progress and that he plans to stay the course. He added the company will continue to place a marketing emphasis on trucks and pull back inventory to get more in line with demand. Some dealers voiced that Ford cannot afford to get rid of any of its brands. "They've got a plan and they're executing it. They have a vision," said Harry Sames, a dealer from Laredo, Texas. "I don't think we had a vision a year ago."

Mulally draw several rounds of applause and a remarkable standing ovation after he promised "a lot less arrogance at Ford Motor Co.," said one dealer. The new CEO spent three days at the event and made himself available for more concerns. Throughout the weekend, dealers and their families approached Mulally to have their picture taken with him.

On the other side of the scenario, DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group's top executives also met with dealers Sunday. Dealers said DaimlerChrysler is looking at a new approach to advertising that would include jointly promoting some models to give them greater exposure. The automaker also is investing more in marketing at the local level to support dealers' sales efforts.

Tom LaSorda, Chrysler CEO, also repeated his commitment to stop pushing dealers to order cars and trucks they don't think they can sell. This has been a practice that riled retailers in 2006. While dealers stopped short of saying their problems with Chrysler are solved, many dealers are quite satisfied with LaSorda's moves and that they are prepared to forgive and move on. "They made a lot of mistakes last year," Rick Kern Jr., a Jeep dealer from Winchester, Va., said following Sunday's meeting. "They're not going to do that again. This year, they're listening."

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